Title: Eclipse

by Lycotheia

Pairing: 53

Rating: MA/NC-17

Summary: Short story about the development of Sanzo and Gojyo's relationship throughout their journey.

Disclaimer: I do not own Saiyuki or any of its characters. I jut own this original plot, title, and the dialogue.

Warnings: Basically VSDL, the usual; violence, sex, drug use, and Gojyo's potty mouth.

Length: ~44,000 words/84 pages

 

Eclipse

 

 

Waxing Crescent

 

            The dust laced the air, rough, hot, dry, choking everything in its path and burying it in golden, sunburned mounds. Tire tracks zigzagged about the bases of dunes like an embroidered thread atop a blank, brown linen. But this thread had no particular pattern or path, only a destination: West.

             The sunlight filtered through clouds of sand, piercing even the cream-colored cloaks worn by the Sanzo Ikkou as their jeep wearily hobbled across the desert.

            "Hakkai I'm hungry, and I'm hot!" Goku whined, scratching his head beneath the heavy cloak before pulling the hood back. "How far? Are we there yet?"

            "Shut up bakazaru!" Gojyo snarled, irritated by the heat and lack of water. He may have been only half-demon, but his water sprite blood was greatly affected by the dry heat.

            "Hakkai did you hear me?" Goku keened, kicking the seat in front of him so that it bounced a bit. Jeep made a dragon's sigh.

            "Yes Goku, I heard you," Hakkai sighed, unable to summon a smile. "It's about a day's ride to the nearest village. We may not even be welcome there; they're living on the fringe of a widening desert. Water is probably very valuable." He coughed, glancing at the three canteens left—Goku had finished his off very quickly—but didn't reach for one.

            "A whole day!?" Goku cried out in alarm glancing madly about them at the endless brown landscape, until, in the far distance, it ran into a cloudless blue. "We'll die!"

            "Oh we won't die," Hakkai assured him. "We may suffer heatstroke and get terrible sunburns, but youkai are very resilient."

            "What about Sanzo?" Goku asked quietly, as if the priest hadn't been riding shotgun and within earshot. "He's only human."

            "And to top that off, he's practically the other white meat," Gojyo jested from beneath his hood, shifting uncomfortable as sweat trickled down the small of his back. "He's gonna be peeling for the next month."

            "Shut up you ingrates," Sanzo hissed, violet eyes glaring out at them from the shadows of his hood. Gojyo couldn't see through them, but he assumed Sanzo already had the beginnings of a burn across his fair skin.

            "What, too tired for the harisen? You'd better not stick your arm out," Gojyo quipped, "it might fry to a crisp. You're whiter than most girls." He shifted again on the sticky seat, groaning aloud in frustration. He wasn't even able to take pleasure from tormenting Sanzo. This was bad.

            "I hate the heat," Goku sighed.

            "I hate the lack of water," Gojyo said, reaching for Sanzo's still-full canteen. He received a sharp whack on the back of his exposed hand the minute his fingertips touched the scalding metal. Sanzo's harisen. "Hey! I need that you know! I'm not used to going this long without water! You want me to wither away?"

            "You have to ask?" Sanzo leaned back against the seat, his narrow purple eyes gazing forward. Gojyo could see him in the side-mirror, when the sun hit his face just right, the shadows disappeared.

            "The sun's just making the monk more irritable," Gojyo grumbled, too tired to fight back this time. The heat drained his energy.

            "I'm hungry! Hakkai can Hakuryu go any faster? Tell her she can have a drink from my canteen if she goes faster," Goku promised hastily, patting the side of the vehicle as if in encouragement.

            "That would be a very generous offer Goku, but I don't believe you have any water left in your canteen," Hakkai pointed out with a small smile, eyes on the road ahead, lost in some fantasy world beneath the tarp-like hood. The sunlight caught his monocle and it gleamed fiercely, blinding Gojyo for a moment in his attempt to turn around.

            "Too bad Jeep doesn't have AC—maybe our hotel will," Gojyo mused aloud. No one answered him.

            "Who cares? They'll just have buckets of iced shrimp, fried chicken, meat buns, pork buns, refried beans, hot dogs, and,"

            "How can you be thinking of food over air conditioning!" Gojyo bellowed. "We're gonna fry! And your precious monk is gonna be the first to go!"

            "Both of you shut the hell up!" Sanzo fired thrice into the air, splitting the heavy silence of their surroundings for a brief moment, before the sand sucked up the sound. "Next one to talk gets a bullet!"

            The moment Sanzo righted himself in his seat, Gojyo smirked to Goku, mouthing the words "Pissy monk." Goku stuck his tongue out and pushed farther back onto his side of the vehicle, purposely ignoring the redhead.

            The ride was silent, as Sanzo requested, for the next few hours. Goku dozed; Gojyo fantasized about icy beer and women, and Hakkai hummed on occasion, but never very loudly.

            It wasn't until a distant clap of thunder startled Goku awake that the noise began. He flopped over onto Gojyo's lap with a startled cry, ducking and covering his head. "Sanzo don't!"

            "What the hell?" Gojyo shoved him off with a grunt of annoyance, cramming him back into his corner. "It's too friggin' hot to climb all over me you fag!"

            "Sanzo…he shot his gun at me." Goku said shakily, receiving a snicker from Gojyo and an irritated growl from up front.

            "That was thunder, you stupid monkey." Sanzo's voice sounded only slightly softer, as if he felt bad that Goku would think him capable of it. The water sprite was irritable and not impressed by this indirect display.

            "How much farther, Hakkai? And how's Hakuryu doing," He added, not wanting to sound like a nag.

            "Well, judging by the map, only another few hours. We've made excellent time," He smiled now, a good sign, and patted the steering wheel. "Hakuryu is doing very well." The Jeep mewled at them, and Goku hugged the door, burning his arm in the process on the scalding metal.

            "Thank you Hakuryu!" He screeched, half in delight, and half in shock at the heat. "I promise I'll take you with us to the restaurant!" He paused, coughing, and looked up into a wave of smoke. "Sanzo you're smoking in this heat?"

            "I thought you said you were out of cigs, you greedy monk! Besides, didn't you take some sorta vow against smoking?" Gojyo leaned forward and snatched at the cigarette, grinning at Sanzo's furious expression and the darkening hue of his violet eyes.    Gorgeous.

            "Thanks," He grinned, placing the Marlboro between his own lips and groaning in relief as he took a drag. He'd forgotten the sweet taste of nicotine. It made the heat more tolerable.

            "You son of a bitch!" Sanzo beat him roughly with his harisen, shouting in his face, "That was my last fucking cigarette you jackass!"

            "Hey get outta my face, prick! Monks aren't supposedta smoke, remember? Those vows you mumbled way back when? Haveta live up to-"

            Sanzo lunged again, and Hakuryu rolled over a large dune, causing the car to jerk upwards in a hiccup, throwing Sanzo into the backseat atop the water sprite.

            "Sanzo!" Laughing, the irate priest's Marlboro still between his teeth, Gojyo held his hands up as the blond scrambled madly for purchase. "I mean, it's not that I mind the audience, but isn't it a little hot for the kinky business?"

            Narrow eyes flashed with fury, and Gojyo sucked in his breath as a Smith and Wesson was cocked, the muzzle pressed tightly against his chest.

            "Give. Me. The. Damn. Smoke." Sanzo bit out, his hands tight around the pistol. Gojyo paled, and then grinned, pulling his hood back.

            "No problem. Just take it," he murmured with lifted brows, using the tip of his tongue to move the cigarette in his lips up and down in what might have been to anyone but a priest, a lewd gesture.

            Sanzo snatched it out of his mouth in a manner that could not have been less responsive. He removed the gun and slid it into his large sleeves, climbing back into the front seat and absolutely seething. Gojyo was too used to it to be very nervous at the moment. Goku looked pleased to see his nemesis in trouble with his idol.

            "Please settle down," Hakkai said to little effect, smiling as he increased their speed. "It looks as though we'll be there a little before nightfall. Good thing, because it gets very cold in the desert during the nighttime. It can drop to freezing temperatures. We'll need a warm place to stay."

            "Oh it's gonna cool off?" Gojyo felt relieved. He hated the heat. At least, he hated heat without water. "Sweet. I'll have a reason to get warm then."

            "Eugh! You stupid perverted kappa!" Goku exclaimed, kicking him in the leg and receiving an equally rough punch in the shoulder. "Are girls all you ever think about!?"

            "Nah." Gojyo shook his head. "I like beer too."

            The monkey shook his head and Hakkai chuckled emptily. Gojyo found himself grinning as he leaned back and rested his head on the seat. The unchanging brown hills of dust slid by outside of Jeep. The grains got everywhere; he couldn't wait to shower. Hell he'd even settle for a bath.

            The next hour was a silent one, save for an occasional grumble from the sky. Gojyo thought that the gods must be as bored as he was. The rocking and bumping of the jeep lulled him into a state of semi-somnolence. He was used to the heat enough to sleep now, and let himself slowly slip away, his thoughts running rampant, as they drew closer to their destination.

             He caught Sanzo's reflection in the side mirror; the monk was looking on ahead with bright eyes, though they looked tired, too. Gojyo couldn't help but admire him. He was something more than ruggedly handsome—the kappa knew that that phrase described him more than it did the priest. Sanzo was beautiful. He had ivory skin—though perhaps not now—that glowed in the dark like the moon. That had been the first thing Gojyo had ever noticed about him. He'd never seen a man with such a fair complexion. Or such an aristocratic face. The straight line of his nose and firm,--but maybe soft?—lips. He wouldn't lie to himself, and deny the fact that he would do a lot to get that priest into his bed. But Sanzo would do more to avoid it. It was just the thought; the strong, slender body beneath his, ivory skin and golden hair glowing in the moonlight, everything about the kappa's Cherry-chan was alluring. But Gojyo wasn't interested in men. It just wasn't his thing. Usually. That was why his attraction to Sanzo had startled him and so quickly ensnared his interest.

            At first he had attributed it to his delight in irritating the priest by faux-flirting with him and touching his shoulder or hand and darting away before the harisen could emerge. Sanzo hated to be touched. But…if it had been only that, he would have been satisfied and thus bored within a week or two. And he wasn't. If anything, he was only more desirous of the monk. It wasn't quite a forbidden fruit complex. Usually that began with physical attraction and ended there too. Whatever "it" was that Sha Gojyo had for Sanzo, he had it bad.

            It had developed out of a mixture of attraction and respect, and maybe even a little fear at times, though he'd die before admitting it to the proud priest. He admired the way he conducted affairs, and the way he thought and reasoned for himself. His refusal to be led, or to lead. Perhaps that was his own version of muichimotsu. Gojyo's mind flashed back to the day Sanzo had mocked him cruelly.

            "You think blood is the only thing that's red?"

            Sanzo, human or not, was a master of himself and managed to inspire others indirectly as he passed through their lives. Goku was enamored, but not in the same sense. Gojyo's fascination with him was romantic. It had grown gradually, and without his notice.

            "What the hell are you staring at, idiot?" Sanzo glowered at Gojyo's reflection in Jeep's side mirror. The kappa hadn't realized he'd been staring as he daydreamed.

            "Nothing," He said with a shrug, turning his gaze away nonchalantly and shutting his eyes in response. Had that been a tinge of red across those fair cheeks?

            Probably sunburn.

           

First Quarter

 

            They arrived as the temperature dropped, and the sun was setting. The Sanzo Ikkou gladly rid themselves of their outer cloaks, but was disgusted to find sweat clinging to their usual clothing.

            The small town Hakkai had been unsure of was a little more inspiring up close. It was tiny—no more than two hundred people total, but the homes were built of stone, rather than mud brick. They had running water and two restaurants, both of which Goku insisted they visit before bed. He hadn't forgotten his promised to Hakuryu either, and used her vote in his favor.

            Hakkai found them rooms—two—above a small tavern. The barkeep informed them that there wasn't an inn anywhere in town because there were so rarely visitors from the outside. Gojyo noted he seemed plenty happy to clean out the rooms above the bar for them, if it meant incoming money from the outside world.

            "Hakkai I'm starving; I'm gonna die!" Goku exclaimed, tugging the healer's large sleeve with pleading eyes. "Puh-lease! I need to eat food!"

            "There's a restaurant just down the street there," the barkeep informed them. "The food's very good. This late in the night, it shouldn't be too busy at all."

            "So how come you're not open?" Hakkai could ask more impertinent questions than that and come off as innocent, Gojyo thought with a half-smile. His tone was always polite, reserved, as though he were hesitant to ask.

            "We open in an hour or so."

            "Is that when the ladies come in?" Gojyo queried, leaning against the top of the bar.

            "Ah, sometimes. Sorry young man, but because our town is so small, people are practically betrothed when they're kids. All the unmarried women here are engaged or too young for you to be reasonably interested in."

            Goku burst into laughter at his enemy's misfortune, and followed Hakkai out of the bar, swinging his hands and arms in excitement.

            "Guess you'll have to occupy yourself tonight, erokappa," Sanzo said stiffly, following the tavern owner up the stairs to their room and a most welcome shower.

 

           

Gojyo came back from a local trade shop with two packs of Hi-Lites and the Marlboros Sanzo had commanded him to return with, or not at all. Hakkai and Goku were still out, as he predicted. Goku was probably busy trying to max out Sanzo's goldcard.

            He had settled himself for the night with the knowledge that he wasn't going to get a girl for his bed, and Sanzo was even farther from his reach. It was then, dropping the bag of cigarettes onto a small table, that he was blindsided by Sanzo coming out of the shower, hair dripping wet, in nothing more than a towel. No one would have blamed him for staring, he reasoned.

            "Well?" Sanzo asked, running a hand through his slick hair.

            "I, you look…" Gojyo couldn't figure out for the life of him what Sanzo was asking.

            "What the hell!? My cigarettes, baka kappa!"

            "Right. Here." Recovering quickly, he tossed a pack over, watching Sanzo eagerly light up, denied the pleasure all day and reveling in it now as he rested atop the bed. "Shower now. If you wake me up when I'm sleeping, I'll shoot you."

            "Right." Gojyo murmured, tugging off his shirt and pants in the presence of the irritable priest, ignoring the grunt of annoyance that followed.

            "Too intimate for you, Cherry-chan?"

            Sanzo was up in a flash at the nickname, and shoved Gojyo back into the wall with both hands. "Shut the fuck up."

            Gojyo made a point of slowly looking down to where Sanzo's hands were pressed flat against his chest. He grinned and touched his tongue to his lower lip, leaning forward, close enough to kiss the tip of Sanzo's Marlboro. "Does this mean you don't want to be a cherry-chan anymore?" He asked huskily, knowing even Sanzo would pick up on the double-entendre.

            Shocked, perhaps expecting him to duck and run, Sanzo stared wide-eyed at the kappa for a good five seconds before he slammed his fist into his jaw. "You sonuvabitch!"

            "Hey! You're the one getting all handsy!" Gojyo recoiled, refusing to return the blow. Sanzo was radiant, even when angry, and he couldn't bring himself to mar that beauty.

            "I'll kill you!" Sanzo hissed, tugging his gun from the pile of his robes on the bed. Gojyo held both hands up in surrender, backing up slowly towards the bathroom.

            "Okay, okay. Calm down priesty. The heat's getting to you. Of course I don't mean the temperature," he added with a wry smile the moment he was all the way into the small washroom, and safe behind the wooden door.

            "What was that!" Sanzo bellowed; a moment later Gojyo yelped and fell to the floor as a bullet slammed through the door and lodged itself in the opposite tile wall, causing several shiny teal squares to crack against the floor.

            "Sanzo! What the hell!? You coulda killed me!" As if that hadn't been the intention… Gojyo sighed, hoping the priest would be cooled off if not asleep by the time he finished his shower.

            Closing his eyes, Gojyo let the chilly water soak his body thoroughly before gradually warming it up to a tepid temperature. He was grateful to be within the presence of water once again, even if it was only a shower. He hated staying dry for too long.

            A low humming sound echoed faintly in the cubicle, and it took the kappa a moment to realize that it was coming from him. He leaned against the cool ocean-colored tile. So the monk's acting as pissy as usual—what's new? At least he missed his shot. But it continued to bother him, plucking at the strands of his subconscious like a lyre, and growing noisier and noisier as the shower water became background interference.

             He ran through various scenarios as the thrumming water grew colder without his notice, each scene played out more ridiculous than the last. It ended with a fantasy beyond imaginary; Gojyo drawing the moon-skinned monk down under him, kissing him and claiming him, but without a yoke. They didn't have to demand loyalty of each other, or assure one another of eternal protection. It could be an informal love, but no less strong for the lack of ties. But no one could ever really harness the moon anyways.

            Gojyo swore when the bathroom door creaked on its unoiled hinges. Sanzo was still awake, because there was a light on beside his bed. He was up, in fact, the lenses of his glasses reflecting the golden glow.

            "Hey…" Gojyo murmured when the piercing violet gaze landed on him. He wished he were wearing more than a towel. The monk's eyes seemed capable of glimpsing through the flimsy cotton fabric clinging to his narrow hips.

            Sanzo did not respond, but merely returned his gaze to the newspaper in his hands. He had dressed, and wore his robes about his waist, black leather shirt and gloves in place on his torso. Gojyo knew the gun was nearby too.

            "So…I guess I'm sleeping with you?"

            Sanzo jerked his head up, about to snarl his reply, when the sprite held his hands up quickly, shaking his head.

            "I mean—are we sharing the room? Usually monkey sleeps—erm, stays with you."

            Sanzo calmed without transition. He slipped off the familiar and much-used mask of his anger and refitted that of indifference over his proud face. "At Hakkai's request, we bunk together from now on."

            "Why would Hakkai want that? The monkey snores like a lion."

            "The smoke," Sanzo elaborated, his tone deadpan. Gojyo just thanked his lucky stars it wasn't laced with malice, for his little joke earlier. Usually such things wouldn't cloud his mind with worry—hell he did them for the fun of it—but lately he had felt the irksome desire to stay in the priest's good graces. Maybe more than that. Appease him, even.

            "Oh. I forgot about his condition," Gojyo said mysteriously, gathering his clothing and piling it up beside his bed. He slid under the sheets in his towel and, when he had Sanzo looking in his direction curiously, he slid the towel out from beneath the sheets, trying to gauge his roommate's expression without really looking.

            "What condition?" Sanzo snapped, jerking his head back towards the newspaper. Was it Gojyo, or did he have a slight flush on his cheeks?

            "He's a pansy."

            This garnered a small "ch" and the quirking of Sanzo's lips; it was equivalent to a belly-laugh from anyone else. Gojyo counted it as a victory.

            "At least you'll be spared Goku's snoring."

            "Only to exchange it for yours."

            "I don't snore that loudly. I've never had a complaint about it before," He prompted, raising his head on his open palm, an elbow buried in his pillow. "You snore too ya know."

            Sanzo didn't look up from his paper. "No I don't."

            What was this? The proud, pretentious and shitty monk wouldn't admit to his snoring? Gojyo snickered. "Hell yes you do. We've all shared a room before, and Hakkai and Goku'll back me up on this."

            "In ten seconds, you're going to go to sleep, or suffer from a serious case of deadness."

            "Goodnight to you too, Sanzo-sama," Gojyo said mockingly as he turned over, back to the priest, and pressed his cheek into the cool pillow. The faint golden glow of Sanzo's bedside lamp didn't vanish, even after Gojyo began to doze. Every so often the newspaper would rustle as he turned a page. The water sprite didn't dare turn around and observe him. He stared at the wooden paneling on the wall, tracing the elliptical, flattened knots up to the ceiling with his eyes, where they disappeared. Sanzo came to mind again, but he flicked him away mentally, with a brush of his fingertips, and let his red lashes ghost the tops of sunburned cheeks. Sleep came when beckoned.

 

            He awoke to a silvery-blue glow; Sanzo's lamp was turned off, but the curtains were pulled back, allowing moonlight to shine through the foggy panes. Gojyo sat up hesitantly, pausing every few seconds with his breath trapped behind his lips to see if Sanzo was awake.

            A tiny hiss of air—not his own—confirmed that the priest was deep asleep, and snoring, though softly. Heh. I told you so, Sanzo. Gorgeous, renegade holy-man or not, you still snore like the rest of us.

            Gojyo propped himself up on his left arm, watching Sanzo through a curtain of red hair before he swiped it back, above his forehead. Gorgeous? Were those his words? Surely not. That sounded like something Hakkai would say. And about a woman at that.

            Despite the lack of witnesses—wasn't his conscience and withered masculinity enough?—the kappa felt a bright red blush crawling up his cheeks all the way to his forehead where it blended in color with the roots of his hair. Suddenly it was too hot in the room. Gorgeous? The thought recurred to him, that it wasn't just a passing fancy. So then what was it? Not purely lust. He could have gotten over that. So what was it about Sanzo that managed to lodge itself beneath his skin and wriggle up into his subconscious? He wasn't exactly sure.

            Goku calls him his "sun." But that was because Sanzo freed him from his prison and allowed him to see the sun again. And Gojyo wouldn't argue that the golden priest certainly had sun-like qualities. He was passionate, if only in anger and personal philosophy, and inspiring too. He, a mere human, had persuaded a group of demons to follow him and endure his constant abuse, Banishing Gun or not. We're not with him for a reward, the kappa mused silently. But, Gojyo reasoned, looking to Sanzo beneath the moon's glow, he's really more of a moon than a sun. Emotionally cold, withdrawn. And like the moon, he only ever shows us half of him. We never see the other side, or what he might be hiding. But the moon represents power too. The sun can blaze and bluster and shine all it likes, but it's the moon that can bring darkness to the world, and muffle the fire of the sun during a lunar eclipse.

            He knew he was right when he looked at him. The fair-haired priest lay stretched out atop the covers, one arm beneath his head, the other resting neatly at his side. His robes sat halfway unrolled, clinging to his narrow waist, and he hadn't taken of his leather undershirt and gloves to sleep. Only his glasses had vanished from his face; everything else was as it had been before Gojyo fell asleep. The firm line of his lips, an almost-frown, and the tightened forehead that signified stress even when unconscious. His slender fingers flexed in a dream, and his pink lips parted just slightly in a silent word. Gojyo had never been good at reading lips, but he could have sworn Sanzo was murmuring his name. It encouraged him to move closer, off of his bed, and nearer to the priest's.

            That fair, marble-like skin didn't absorb the moonlight anymore than it did the sun's. It reflected it. He was almost glowing in sleep, as though his sutra allowed him to gather strength through the power of the stars while he slept.

            "Hng…" The monk shifted, his face turning towards Gojyo's in sleep. A shock of golden hair fell over his left eye, blending with long lashes. The sprite reached out to flick it back behind his ear, but paused, his hand extended over Sanzo's body, hovering near its objective. His skin neither reflected nor absorbed the moonlight. It seemed to avoid his outstretched limb completely, swirling around it and alighting atop Sanzo. Gojyo stared at his knobby, bronzed hand and withdrew it, his left palm grasping the opposite wrist.

            It was true that Sanzo had taken few vows that he hadn't broken. The rebellious priest grew his hair long, smoke, drank, shot, and swore with a more extensive vocabulary than Gojyo. And he didn't blink twice before taking out an enemy in battle. But, as the kappa reminded him almost daily, he was still a virgin. He hadn't broken that vow—Gojyo wasn't certain if there was another that even linked him to Buddhism. It seemed that to touch him now, without his permission, with the burned, scarred hand of a forbidden child, would somehow dirty him. Would make the moonlight dodge his body too.

            Gojyo retreated in silence to his bed, not wanting to incur the wrath of those violet eyes, which he surely would if he lingered so close for much longer. Easing into the sheets, he glanced once more at the monk, seeing him shift onto his side, facing Gojyo with closed eyes. What is it that makes me want him? What makes me want to please him, soothe him, make that furrow in his brow disappear, at least during sleep?

            He smiled to himself, knowing the answer was more complicated than he could ever hope to sort out. For now, he'd just have to call it love.

            I don't mind, Sanzo, if you're Goku's sun. He needs that. But you're my moon, if only by night, when you're too tired to refuse the adoration.

 

Waxing Gibbous

 

            They set off early the next morning to the sound of Sanzo's impatient gunshots.

            "Oi, baldy, keep it down. You'll wake the whole town." Gojyo held his hands over his ears with a grin, hopping into the back of the jeep and settling himself in the narrow space between the door and Goku's grocery sacks full of provisions.

            "I say we leave him behind," the monkey argued petulantly, sniffing through the bag despite an enormous breakfast less than half an hour ago. "He takes up room we could use for food. We're gonna need it, you know."

            "Do you have any extra Hi-Lites in there?" Gojyo growled, shoving Goku back and putting his head into one of the burlap sacks.

            "No," Goku smirked, sticking his tongue out at the sprite. "Why would I? That's a nasty habit you know. I'm trying to help you quit."

            "You wanna talk nasty habits, you bakazaru!? Try overeating."

            "I'm not overeating! I'm making up for five centuries without food! Now shut up jerkoff; I'm hungry. Get outta the bag."

            "I want my friggin Hi-Lites you stupid-"

            "Kappa." Sanzo barked, reaching towards the back seat without so much as turning around. "Here." He shoved an unopened pack of Gojyo's cigarettes into his hand, and the startled hanyou managed a shaky thank you. Goku stared curiously at the monk before stuffing a bagel into his mouth, and forming his questions around it.

            "Wowf kum Wanzo's bein' nwiceta joo?"

            "Hey you're getting debris all over me you damn monkey! Are you sure you're not a pig demon?"

            "Hey shut up!" Goku barked, repeating the question more seriously this time.

            "Who's being nice?" Sanzo growled, shooting a full round into the air and hollering for Hakkai.

            "Stop hauling ass and get your stupid dragon revved up!"

            Gojyo saw Hakkai make a gesture of apology to the inn-keeper, whom he had been thanking, and hurry towards a very irritated Hakuryu.

            "Sanzo you really shouldn't be wasting so many bullets simply to get my attention. All you have to do is call. I was thanking the bar's owner, and paying him for his troubles. Goku practically ate him out of house and home."

            "I can't help it if I'm starving all th' time!" Goku protested in a drawn out whine.

            "No talking!" Sanzo barked, slapping Goku lightly, in warning, with the harisen. Gojyo made a mental note to keep quiet on this trip. He sucked on one of the Hi-Lites from the pack Sanzo had bought him, blowing puffs of smoke into Goku's direction when he was occupied.

            "Does Hakuryu have a radio?"

            "No, I'm sorry, Hakuryu doesn't come with all the amenities. She is a dragon after all," Hakkai informed the youngest—well, technically oldest—of their group. "But she can sing beautifully."

            Hakuryu purred to this, and Gojyo rolled his eyes. "Flirting with ladies of other species now, Hakkai?"

            "Are you really reprimanding me for flirting, Gojyo?" Hakkai asked pleasantly, as though he wasn't capable of making a snide comment.

            "Hey, I'm just trying to be helpful. You're gonna need some guidance if you're planning to put yourself on the market."

            "I'm content where I am, thank you." Hakkai assured him with a smile. It was impossible to tell when he was being serious from when he was being facetious. Maybe he was never really either.

            "And what about you Ch—Sanzo-sama?" Gojyo drawled, leaning over the passenger seat with a teasing little grin. "Gonna put yourself out there any time soon? Some women go for the whole guy-in-robes thing."

            "Erokappa, if you don't shut your mouth in the next ten seconds…"

            "Or maybe you're not interested in wom--"

            "Wrong," Sanzo growled, shoving the muzzle of his gun up against Gojyo's forehead and cocking it with a little click. The redhead grinned innocently and patted Sanzo's shoulder as he backed up, hands retreating into the air. "That wasn't exactly ten seconds, Houshi-sama."

            "Do you know how many seconds it takes to die?"

            "I think that's one I'm willing to live without knowing." Gojyo assured him, settling back into his seat and donning his hood as the sun began to rise in the sky, and the heat increased. Silence reigned, aside from Gojyo's occasional exhalations as he finished a cigarette and Goku's loud gnawing on a tin of sugar cookies. Sanzo stared blankly ahead, thinking monk-thoughts, and Hakkai seemed lost in his own little world, a perpetual smile on his face as he steered Hakuryu through the dessert.

 

            They didn't have to journey far to reach the end of the desert, but how they got there had been completely by accident. A sandstorm drowned them in a cloud of gold, and removed them far from their path—no one was quite sure what landmarks Hakkai was following—which led them through a shortcut. They had had to walk because of the deep sand, much to the monk's dislike, though it was Goku who did most of the complaining. Hakuryu cooed her apologies to Hakkai, who assured her it wasn't her fault, and that Sanzo's threats were empty because he valued her potential as a jeep.

            After Goku's hysterics and certainty that they would perish by nightfall under the blistering heat of the sun, Hakkai noticed trees in the distance, savannah-like and scraggly as shrubs, but green. Following the vegetation, which sprouted thicker as miles passed beneath their feet, the Sanzo Ikkou found themselves in the middle of a much larger city than their refuge the night before. Hakkai estimated that it held at least fifty-thousand people.

            "So let's find a restaurant! We had to leave all that food in the desert when Hakuryu transformed!" Goku began dragging Gojyo, then Hakkai, this way and that, but his hyperactivity ended the moment he grasped at Sanzo's hand.

            "Enough," the priest ground out, jaw clenched. "We're going to find a place to stay, because it's sunset, and tomorrow we'll start off again. Do you have the map, Hakkai?"

            Hakkai held up the rolled parchment with a small smile. "We'll find a very spacious inn I'm sure."

           

            They did, but unfortunately didn't get to enjoy the benefits of it.

            "We're practically booked. You're lucky we can fit you in at all. There's a huge tournament in town—fighting a 'course—and people have come from all around to watch. We've got two rooms, but they'll cost ya. They're smokin' too, by the way." The man in the reception hall looked anything but welcoming. Gojyo wondered if he was a janitor off-duty filling in for someone else. His clothing didn't fit him—shirt too tight, pants too long—and he seemed nervous surrounded by the granite countertops and candy-filled crystal bowls.
            "Fine," Sanzo growled, pushing his goldcard into the man's sweaty hand and glowering at Hakkai. "You stay with the monkey tonight."

            Hakkai raised his eyebrows in question, but said nothing more, only nodded.

            "Here ya go," the janitor-in-disguise handed them two room keys, wishing them a pleasant stay as they made their way towards the elevators.

            "Lookit that, we're on totally different floors. Is it good for us to be separated for so long, Sanzo?" Goku peered up at his sun with wide eyes, fingering the key Hakkai permitted him to carry, since it wasn't edible.

            "It's only for a night," the priest said. "We should be fine. Besides, if there's anything amiss, with all these people around, we'll hear about it fast enough."

            The elevator dinged once on the second floor, where Hakkai and Goku got off, and once on the third, where a young couple got on just as Sanzo and Gojyo slid between the sliding doors. Gojyo had barely had time to make eye contact with the attractive brunette, much less initiate conversation, before Sanzo's hand had locked around his wrist. He was dragged from the elevator. And here he thought Sanzo didn't like to be touched.

            "Whoa, baldy, what's the rush?"

            "Baka erokappa. I don't want you making a scene here."

            "Making a scene? I hadn't even done anything!" Gojyo protested, stopping in front of their room when Sanzo jerked to a halt.

            "You were eyeing her like a piece of meat."

            "So? I do that all the time."

            "Not when their husbands are present," the priest muttered, shoving the door open and letting Gojyo close it.

            Sanzo seemed to take no notice, but Gojyo breathed deeply of the air-conditioned, faintly perfumed atmosphere of their room. It was more like a hotel than an inn, he thought. The bathroom was to the left upon entering, opposite the closet, and sparkling clean. There were two double beds piled high with pillows, a desk and chair, a television in a bureau, and even a corner kitchenette. "Ritzy. How much did this set us back?"

            "What do you mean 'us'? As I recall, that card has my name on it."

            "Right, right…" Gojyo agreed, flopping back on the bed nearest the window.

            "Get off."

            "What?" He sat up, brows furrowed.

            "That's my bed."

            "They're exactly the same," the sprite protested, getting up nonetheless and trudging towards the other bed, closest to the wall. "I don't see how it matters."

            The priest didn't bother responding, but after surveying their surroundings through the floor-to-ceiling window, he plucked a newspaper from the desk and sat back to read it. Gojyo looked down, and then back up at him, and his glasses were on.

            "So where do you keep those, anyway?"

            "Keep what?" Sanzo shook his head in exasperation. "Go find Hakkai and Goku."

            "Why? You need more cigarettes?"

            "To amuse yourself kappa. At the very worst, go find an unattached woman to go home with. But be here by eight sharp, or we leave without you."

            "How generous of you Houishi-sama," the kappa sneered in irritation. As if the monk could set boundaries for him. "Maybe I'll just bring her back here," He said as he shut the door, hearing Sanzo bellow out a threat to him halfway down the hall.

            "Yeah, yeah…stupid monk." Gojyo grinned to himself, pushing the glowing button beside the elevator doors. They slid open with a small ding and he rode the air-conditioned box to the second floor, where he ran into Goku speeding down the hallway and muttering about his dinner. Hakkai was locking up their room.

            "Ritzy place, huh kappa?"

            "Yeah…Are you guys going out to eat now? I think I'll come with you. His royal highness has demanded silence for the evening."

            "Yeah Sanzo's been in such a mood lately," Goku complained, tapping his fingers on the inside of the elevator the moment the doors slid shut. Hakkai nearly lost the tail end of his shirt in the monkey's rush to get to the lobby.

            "We shoulda taken the stairs," Goku sighed, bored by the conversation he initiated already. "I'm starvin' Hakkai! How come we hadta wait for you to shower?"

            "Because I drove us here for twelve hours straight without a break, Goku," Hakkai managed with a tired smile. Gojyo sensed pressure pulsing around his limiters, and pressed a hand to his shoulder. "If you want, tomorrow I can drive."

            "Gojyo that's very kind of you. I'd take you up on the offer too, except you don't know how to drive. And Hakuryu probably wouldn't appreciate it."

            "Oh well—there's that." The redhead scratched his nape, following them into the small lobby and out of the inn. There was a restaurant across the street that smelled heavily of frying fish and clams. Goku was in the door and requesting a table for three before they stepped down from the side walk. "So how about we stay more than a night? I mean, you shouldn't be driving again if you're this exhausted."

            "I don't think Sanzo would appreciate that." Hakkai affirmed that yes, they were with the boisterous young man who had dashed through the restaurant a moment ago, and the demons were led to their table.

            "I bet I can persuade him." Gojyo said with a crack of his knuckles and a wily grin.

            "He's very adamant that we not lose any more time." Hakkai said quietly. "But all the same, I'd appreciate the effort. Just don't die." He smiled as he said it, but they both knew their holy leader well; it was a genuine concern.

           

            "Even I'm stuffed," Gojyo said with a yawn, walking with Hakkai towards their inn. The moon, almost full in the sky, save for a day or two, was masked by puffy streams of clouds.

            "I hope they have enough fish left for everyone else, after Goku cleaned them out like that," Hakkai said with a small chuckle.

            "Yeah well I hope I don't get whacked with a harisen when I come back smelling like that stinky fish shack."

            They slid into the elevator, Goku trailing behind and licking an ice cream cone. He announced that he would take the stairs. "You can come use the shower in our room if you like. I already have, and Goku will probably just fall asleep."

            "Thanks." Hakkai and Goku's room was a straight shot from the elevator. Goku was standing in front of the locked door and waiting for his key to arrive.

            "Hey monkey. Where'd that ice cream go?"

            "Where do you think?"

            "Straight to your thighs." The sprite laughed, following Hakkai in and heading to the shower. "I'll just be a second. I needta catch Sanzo before he conks out, to make sure he knows we're not leaving tomorrow morning."

            "We're not?" Goku piped from his bed, where he was kicking off his shoes and cape. "Why? Is Sanzo sick?"

            "No," Gojyo said, dropping his shirt and vest and simultaneously removing his boots. "But Hakkai's worn out."

            "I can make it. Hakuryu though, she's doing all the real work…"

            "Either way." Gojyo noticed the small dragon when it squeaked from its place atop Hakkai's pillow. "I'll get him to understand." He doubted Hakkai understood the little grin playing around the corners of his mouth, but let him wonder about it as he showered quickly and contemplated the most effective manner of blackmailing the priest.

 

            "Hey I've got it!" The kappa burst through the bathroom doors in his towel, striding towards the pile of his clothing on the floor. Hakkai was neatly folding his own shirt as he turned and held a finger to his lips, indicated Goku asleep on the nearby bed.

            Gojyo silenced himself and bent to scoop up his boots, continuing in a whisper. "I figure if I tell Sanzo--" He was tugged back by his waist, and turned around to find that the fluffy cotton towel about his lower half had been snagged on a lower wall hook. He fisted the knot of the towel and tugged, walking forwards with greater force than necessary to free the fabric, and toppled headlong into Hakkai with a grunt.

            "Gyah!"

            Hakkai broke his fall; Gojyo fell flush against him, able to feel the smooth, dry skin of his chest pressing against his own damp flesh. He pulled his head back from where his mouth had made contact with the youkai's flesh, bruising it. "Sorry," he began as he sat up cautiously. Realizing his towel had slid down past his waist, and in fact to his knees, a line of red tinted his cheeks.

            "Hey Kappa," their door swung open, and the blond priest strode in. "I'm going to lock…" His sentence trailed off, finishing perhaps on his lips, but not in his mind, as he stared at the redheaded, nearly-naked hanyou straddling a shirtless Hakkai. His eyes darkened in time with his flushing cheeks. Gojyo saw his jaw set and tense, readying himself for a volley of shots. To his surprise none came; the monk simply turned around and exited with a quiet click of the door.

            By the time Gojyo had righted himself and Hakkai had regained his senses, both toppled into the hallway, scanning the green carpeting for Sanzo, but finding no one.

            "He musta gone back up to his room."

            "I have to admit, I'm surprised he hadn't been…angry." Hakkai mused. "I expected him to pull his gun out, or at the very least the harisen and give you a good talking to."

            "Me? Why would he just talk to me?" Gojyo protested, tugging his shirt on and he stepped into his boots. "You looked just as involved as I did!"

            "Hurry, hurry," Hakkai shooed him out, insisting that he put the situation to rights. "And if I were you, I wouldn't bring up staying an extra night."

            "Right," the redhead rolled his eyes, pushing a hand through his damp mane. When he reached his and Sanzo's room, the door was locked. He knocked, but received no reply.

            "Sanzo." Gojyo said as quietly as he could while still making himself heard. "Hey man, open up. I needta get in to sleep." When a long silence followed, he began to wonder if the priest hadn't returned to the room at all. He heard a lock slide out of place, and leaned towards the opening of the door as it was pulled open. A small carton of Hi-Lites was shoved roughly into his face, and he caught a brief flash of angry violet eyes. "What the hell!?"
            "Stupid erokappa," the blonde hissed, "go sleep with Hakkai."

            "Sanzo it was justa--" He sucked in the last of his words when the muzzle of a very familiar Banishing Gun was jammed through the opening between the door and the wall, inches from the tip of his nose.

            "No talking." Sanzo ground out. "Go."

            There were times when Gojyo was sure Sanzo wouldn't live up to his threats, times when he only used the gun for show, to corral the sprite and the boisterous monkey without losing face. But this time was different. Gojyo had heard the click of the safety being turned off. Sanzo's hand was on the trigger.

            "Okay," the kappa breathed, stepping back, hands in the air. "Okay, Sanzo." He spoke with respect and some confusion, turning and heading back towards the elevators. Why was Sanzo so determined to punish him for this? Gojyo knew what it had looked like, but the shitty priest never gave him time to explain! But even if there was nothing to explain—even if Gojyo and Hakkai had really been…well the thought thankfully evaded him, but nevertheless—what would Sanzo care? Why would he be angry? If anything, it would give him a room to himself more often. So why was he so upset?

 

            "Thanks for letting me crash here," Gojyo said with a sigh, slipping into bed in his boxers, since he didn't dare sleep naked in the same bed as Hakkai. Especially not after what just happened. Or ever.

            "It's fine, Gojyo. I just can't imagine why Sanzo would be so upset. I thought he would ridicule you for it, or give you a speech about morality and not corrupting the rest of us."

            "Hey who's corrupting who?" Gojyo said with a growl, earning a little laugh from his friend.

            "Whom, you mean, and of course you would be the one corrupting me. But no offense intended, Gojyo, I'm not interested in men."

            "Yeah well neither am I! It was an obvious mistake. You were there. You saw." The water sprite huffed and turned his strong back to Hakkai, who was dozing with his arms beneath his head.

            "Of course. Sanzo will cool off, given time."

            "I don't know. He seemed really upset to me."

            "Upset? I thought you said he was furious."

            "That too," Gojyo allowed, replaying the scene in his mind. "But it wasn't just anger. Usually then he just swears and rails against me and uses his harisen to vent the extra energy. He was very calm—the eerie sort of calm he gets in battle—this time, and he used his gun."

            "How odd…must be something in the water. Or perhaps the moon," Hakkai said between yawns. "There's a lunar eclipse in a few days."

 

Full Moon

 

            They set off at eight on the dot that morning; a heavy tension hung like a canopy over the car. They were too close for comfort, and Goku couldn't figure out why. Being curious by nature, this tight-lipped group had him irate within the first hour. 

            "How come everyone's so quiet?"

            "It's hot," Gojyo said by means of explanation, "so shut up."

            "Hey! I hate it when you all keep secrets from me. I mean, this has gotta be something serious. Everyone's quiet and angry-looking. Even Hakkai's not smiling. And he even smiles in battle!" Goku fidgeted in annoyance, looking from the sour-faced Gojyo to his Sun, who still wore his perpetual Noh-mask of indifference, to Hakkai, of whom he could only see glistening black hair.

            "Give it a rest, monkey," Sanzo growled, his voice threatening the harisen. Goku shut up.

            Gojyo took a drag from his cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke to the side. The passing scenery was greener than the days before, but aside from that, much unchanged. Everything was still flat, motionless, and repetitive. He could have sworn he had seen the same cluster of trees and boulders ten times by noon.

            "Hakkai, where's the next town?" Goku had stirred from an unpleasant sleep, and made a point to glare at the hanyou beside him as he awoke.

            "Oh we should reach it in a day or two. We're taking a short cut, and skipping all the small towns on the way. Unfortunately because of this route, we'll have to camp out one night. Unless by some miracle I'm able to drive forty hours without rest." He chuckled at the impossibility, but Goku seemed to take it seriously and nod.

            "Well, if we haveta stop, we can ya know. We've got enough food and stuff. Besides, camping out's not so bad. We still have four tents, right?"

            "Four? Oh no, Hakuryu could never carry four. We have two. But they're plenty large. We'll just see where we end up when the moon rises."

 

            Gojyo was not happy where he ended up as the moon rose. "I am not gonna share a tent with the bakazaru!"

            "Oh yes you are you ero-kappa!" Sanzo bellowed, slamming his harisen down on top of a red head.

            "What the hell's your problem, you pissy monk!" Goyjo seethed, rubbing his throbbing skull with a free hand as he helped Hakkai unload the panting Hakuryu. "You leave Goku 'n me together all night and one of us ain't comin' out alive. And it won't be me!"

            "Hey stupid cockroach," Goku snarled, hungry and more tetchy than usual after the long day of sticky silence. "I could kick your ass any day!"

            "Stop haulin' ass you dump chimp!" Gojyo piled the second tent atop the first in Goku's arms, still leering at the fair-haired priest. "And what're you doing to help, Baldy? Or are you just gonna let your slaves do all the work?"

            "Of course." Sanzo said it so simply, as though he didn't even expect argument from the others, that Gojyo nearly blew a fuse.

            "Fucking asshole!" He snarled, containing most of his extra energy when Hakkai shot him a meaningful look that, roughly translated, implored the kappa to allow them a night of rest, without Sanzo's foul temper.

            "What was that?" The priest growled from atop his rock, Marlboro in hand.

            "You've gotta be the shittiest priest I've ever seen," the sprite mumbled as he helped Hakkai pitch the tent, watching Goku dodge the work in imitation of his Sun.

            "Sanzo I'm hungry."

            "Ask Hakkai."

            "Sanzo, I'm a little occupied right now," Hakkai said with a forced smile, gritting his teeth as he forced a metal pole into the earth, securing it with a rope and Gojyo's help. "Ah, thank you."

            The kappa grunted in reply. "Bakasaru. Get over here and help us."

            "I'm gonna starve!"

            "I'll cook dinner shortly, perhaps you could help by going to gather wood?" Hakkai panted as he stood back and watched Gojyo pull the final knot through a metal peg and properly secure the two-person tarp. When the monkey gave a disinterested sigh, the healer persuaded him further.

            "The faster we have firewood, the faster you can eat."

            "I'll be back," Goku said, hurrying off towards the forest.

            "Don't get lost," Hakkai called out between cupped hands, a soft smile covering his face. Gojyo noticed that it didn't quite reach his eyes.

            "I can't believe I have to sleep with the monkey," Gojyo grumbled, holding the heavy tent up while Hakkai made a neat knot in the first rope. He could feel perspiration trickling down his back and sides, slicking his bronzed skin and emitting a wild, personal odor. Nothing offensive, at least not to him.

            "Surely, Sanzo, after rooming with Goku so many nights, you wouldn't mind sharing a tent with him would you?" Hakkai suggested, pleading his friend's case. "If it's his hunger you're worried about, he can have my portion of dinner tonight, so he'll be more tolerable."

            Gojyo flushed and passed his friend a look of deep gratitude, uncertain of the logic behind Hakkai's sacrifice. Perhaps he was just drop-dead tired, and wanted only to climb into bed. Even if that meant the dirt.

            Sanzo eyed them both as if he knew they were plotting against him in their favor. Gojyo wanted to snap his head back for that. Despite his recent interest and patience with the monk, the last few hours had been intolerable. He was getting grumpier, if that were even possible.

            "No."

            "Why the hell not!" Gojyo snarled, ruining the effect of Hakkai's calm persuasion. "You've had a stick up your ass ever since we started off this morning!"

            "Why do you think, you stupid hanyou!" Sanzo growled, his voice deeper than usual, in a rigid, unbending tone. The sprite wouldn't have noticed its significance if Hakkai hadn't let out a small gasp and stepped back to occupy himself with his work. It was as though this had become a private conversation between priest and demon.

            "Enlighten me," Gojyo bit out. He could feel the muscles of his jaw twitching.

            The look in Sanzo's violet eyes faded; the feeling that Gojyo had had, that the monk was about to really say something, vanished. "I don't want to have to listen to you two banging all night. It's best to separate you," the blonde said simply, stomping out his cigarette and turning towards the woods.

            "I told you, you fucking moron!" Gojyo howled, "That was a mistake!"

            "Your 'mistake' is right behind you."

            "Shut up! You know I have no interest in him that way—and he sure as hell doesn't!"

            "It's true," Hakkai voiced shyly from behind the almost-erect tent. He was shuffling around behind it and trying to put it to rights without drawing attention towards himself.

            "Justify it as you will." Sanzo's voice was suddenly drained of passion. He strode calmly towards the edge of the clearing. "Don't follow me," were his only instructions before disappearing into the shadows.

            "That sonuvabitch." Gojyo seethed, his hair standing on end. "Do you believe that shit?"

            "What shit?" Goku asked curiously, arms full of twigs. "And where's Sanzo? Hey Hakkai, I brought kindling, see?"

            "Thank you Goku," Hakkai smiled and yawned at the same time, preparing a fire and then their meal. Gojyo had lost his appetite, and offered his portion to the starving chimp in a peace-offering. Goku accepted happily, and his meal seemed to rejuvenate him. Soon his jubilant outlook returned, and he even offered to help Hakkai clean the dishes. Gojyo announced that he was going for a walk, and not to wait up.

            "Don't worry, we wouldn't," Goku called out jokingly, earning only a back-handed wave from the hanyou before the shadows swallowed him up.

 

            The woods were light for midnight; the full moon was visible through thatched branches overhead, reminding Gojyo of a makeshift roof after a storm. He heard the rustling of animals at his passing as they adjusted in their beds. On occasion he caught the silhouette of a fuzzy tail or sharp beak.

            He allowed his thoughts free-range, denying them nothing as he floated restlessly between sleep and wakefulness. Images crashed behind his eyes and mingled with garbled noises of the day. Hakkai's tense smiles, Goku's whining, and then Sanzo. And then his mind settled, seeming quite content to focus on the owner of all that gorgeous, glowing blonde hair that he stared at day in and day out from his place in the back of the jeep. Sanzo who had seemed disturbed by the relationship he thought Gojyo and Hakkai shared. Gojyo didn't know how to make it any clearer than he already had. Let him believe what he wants. He's just a jealous prick. Cherry-chan.

            Gojyo smirked, running a hand through his hair and feeling the damp, slick perspiration beading there. He could smell the familiar musk and rain scent that he often emanated; it had been a long time, considering the humid conditions, since any of them had bathed. It made him think that maybe his scent wasn't as pleasant to everyone else as it was to him. He persuaded himself to bathe, following the path of a narrow, chilly stream to where it widened and forked with another, wider one in a gush of bubbling water. For a moment he sat on the flat ground and removed his socks and shoes, then glanced about at his surroundings.

             Tall reeds clicked around the banks, chirping on occasion with crickets and cicadas. The trees parted overhead, unable to reach their willowy branches completely across the stream. Shards of moonlight danced on the dashing water; Gojyo traced their path with his eyes until they parted, distorted by a rupture on the surface.

            It was then that he saw him.

            Tiny pearls of water were flung from his glowing mane onto the rocks where they shattered; larger, lapping waves of movement licked at alabaster sides with hungry whishing sounds. The priest ran a slender hand through his hair and pushed it back into place, pausing in movement as he contemplated the full moon overhead. Gojyo realized that he had not been sensed, and nor was he breathing.

            Sanzo turned to the side, allowing Gojyo a resplendent view of the monk's water-slicked form. It made the kappa realize that their leader hadn't been eating very much. His usual vegetarian diet had been compromised by their journey. Gojyo suspected that he had given most of his portions to Goku anyways. He was thin. Almost too thin, the kappa thought with a tight frown. His hip bones were clearly defined, though smooth muscle still existed over his slender arms and shoulders. Water crystals danced on his eyelashes, and vanished as they flicked open, revealing luminescent amethyst.

            The sprite felt an eager warmth welling up in his belly and flowing through his bloodstream at the sight. The moonlight set his golden hair on fire, and illuminated the brief glimpses of embers below his navel. He could not see enough; the reeds, those dreadful plants that had so tormented Pan—and for much the same reason—now obscured his view. It was then that Gojyo's nature betrayed him. Leaning forward to peer through the reeds as Sanzo turned closer yet, the muddy bank sloshed out from beneath his feet and sent him hurtling into the stream with an ungainly splash.

            He surfaced with a gasp, only out of breath because he had been holding it from within his hiding place. Shaking out his scarlet mane, he stood up and walked right into the muzzle of Sanzo's gun.

            The monk was staring at him motionlessly; fury darkened his eyes, embarrassment—surely not modesty?—his face. "What the fuck," Sanzo bit out, "did you think you were doing, ero-kappa?"

            Gojyo held his hands up and stepped back easily in the water. Sanzo was still naked, but the stream was deeper here, and he seemed at ease with his body covered up to the waist. Or maybe it's 'cause he could blow my head off any minute…

            "Kappa!" Sanzo bellowed, his jaw tight as it locked in silence. Gojyo realized it wasn't a rhetorical question, and the priest wanted an answer.

            "I—I was looking for you," he said stupidly. "And I got distracted—I followed the stream down to take a bath. See?" He lifted a leg to reveal that he had already removed his socks and boots in preparation.

            "So you just decided to sit here and watch me first?" Sanzo seethed, his finger putting a dangerous amount of pressure on the trigger. Gojyo wasn't foolish enough to believe the safety was on.

            "No! I mean, I…look I can't answer this truthfully if you've got that thing sticking in my face!" Gojyo stepped back against the current in a single, fluid motion, and Sanzo staggered, surprised by the pull. The sprite was in his element.

            "You damn well better answer me, and now!" He demanded, a sudden ferocity about him that Gojyo hadn't encountered before. It seemed that it stemmed from more than irritation.

            "I wanted to look!" Gojyo snapped, coloring about the cheeks. He didn't know why. He had uttered far more suggestive phrases into the ears of strangers.

            And for some reason, this set the fair-haired monk off. "What the fuck is wrong with you, you bastard!"

            Gojyo's blush darkened, glancing away. He opened his mouth in apology, but Sanzo shoved him back angrily.

            "Is Hakkai not enough for you!? Are you really so depraved that you can't bear a night without two people for your bed?"

            Now it was the kappa's turn to rile, his complexion reddening down to the roots of his crimson mane. "What's this gotta do with Hakkai you bastard!" He returned with equal venom, stepping forward and surprising Sanzo long enough to jerk the gun from his hand and fling it onto the embankment, not far from his robes. "I've already told you that we're--"

            "Why him!" Sanzo demanded, and then paled noticeably, even under the night sky. Gojyo supposed he noticed it because it made the priest glow even more. He locked his jaw and stared as though he still wielded his weapon, and thought Gojyo would back off.

            "Why Hakkai?" Gojyo echoed foolishly, his lips partially open in confusion. "I've told you, you stupid monk," he murmured. "It really was an accident. There's nothing between us. The most intimate thing I've ever done with him is shove his guts back inside long enough to sew him up!" Gojyo promised, finding himself suddenly eager to win the implied affection Sanzo had withheld from him for so long.

            "I answered that truthfully," he swore, "now you tell me why you wanna know."

            The priest cast a glance towards his pistol, stranded a good distance from where he stood. He looked back to the hanyou and a pair of glistening garnet eyes, shaking his head. He set his jaw and made it clear he would say no more.

            "Sanzo--"

            "Get out."

            "But you just--"

            "Get out. You're lucky to escape with your life, you bastard ero-kappa."

            The words stung more than usual. Gojyo heaved himself onto the bank and strode towards Sanzo's robes. He heard the blonde mutter a threat in a tense tone, but rather than snatching up his clothing, the kappa grasped his pistol and put it in his hand, kneeling on the bank so that the two men were at eye-level.

            "I didn't do it out of spite, or some sick fantasy. If you'd open up to me a little more," Gojyo murmured, "I'd tell you everything."

            He heard the gun cock, but at the same moment, the safety being flicked on. "I don't want to know everything. Or anything, from you. Now get lost. Idiot."

            The single word brought a broad grin to Gojyo's face. The simple insult, rather than scalding epithets, represented the calming of his temper. Things were as they had been. Sanzo was going to put it behind him, and pretend it didn't happen. He would have to work on that too. "Nah. I think I like it here." Gojyo grinned, stepping back and tugging a pack of cigarettes from his vest pocket. They weren't too damp to be lit. His zippo lighter produced a single red ember at the end of a Hi-Lite, and he leaned back against the rough bark of a tree, legs splayed haphazardly before him, and inhaled.

            "Wanna smoke?"

            Sanzo stood immobile in the water. "I said get the hell away." He seemed stunned that Gojyo wasn't listening. And here he even had his gun back.

            "Nope. I like it here. Nice view," he said with a grin, then glanced up at the moon when Sanzo made a threatening gesture.

            "Hakkai says there's supposed to be a lunar eclipse t'night ya know. Hey—you're starting to shiver." His voice took on a serious, concerned tone. "You can't weigh more than my legs; you'll freeze to death and then fry tomorrow morning."

            When Sanzo didn't move, a grin crawled onto his face. "Dude, you grew up in a temple. You can't tell me you've never bathed in front of another guy before?"

            "Turn around." Sanzo demanded, releasing the safety of the pistol. Gojyo obliged him, but not 'cause I'm afraid, and turned to face the tree.

            "Okay, I'm not peeking," he promised, hearing Sanzo rise from the water and stride quickly to his jeans. "Just tell me when. And I'd better not turn around to find a gun in my face."

            After a brief sound of rustling and the sensual hiss his light robes made as they slid over leather and denim, Gojyo received a "Ch," and righted himself. Sanzo was fully clothed, the only signs of his bath being his damp hair, and a stray droplet on his left lash.

            Removing a Marlboro from its red and white box, Sanzo flicked his lighter uselessly, swearing beneath his breath and around a cigarette until Gojyo held out his Zippo and its dancing embers beneath the monk's nose. "Light?"

            Sanzo leaned forward and ignited the cigarette, breathing deeply of it and tilting his head back as he sat against the hanyou's tree beside him. That little sigh alone made Gojyo wonder what other sounds else that slender, perfect mouth was capable of producing.

            "So is that what passes for conversation with you?" He snickered, stretching his long legs out before him.

            "Your feet are clownish." Sanzo amended, taking a glance at the kappa's large feet and then inhaling again.

            "Eh," Gojyo shrugged it off with a smirk, "you know what they say about big feet? Well. It's true."

            Sanzo made a disgusted noise and stabbed the taller man with the hot end of his cigarette. "Pervert."

            "I don't deny it." He grinned and turned his head so that his right cheek rested against the rough bark of the tree. Sanzo's face was very close. "But how do you deal with not having it?"

            "What?"

            "Sex, I mean."

            "This may come as a surprise to your underdeveloped brain, but it's not necessary to life."

            "No, but nor are a lot of things, but they're still nice to have. I'm not knocking your ideals. I mean, if you wanna be a virgin vegetarian, there's nothin' wrong with it. Cherry-chan," Gojyo grinned, leaning a bit closer. "Really."

            Sanzo shoved him back and smacked him roughly with his harisen, earning a few aggravated yelps from the kappa.

            "It's a serious question man!" Goyjo protested, holding his hands over his head until the paper fan vanished. And it was. Sanzo had always appeared frigid to him, uninterested in any sort of passion—outside of anger—and in fact most feelings, too. "I'm just curious. I've known you for long enough to have figured out that you're not into it. That's fine. But I know why you're a vegetarian, and I bet it's the same reason you're fr—uhm…conservative. Because you're a monk. Am I right?"

            Sanzo sighed, his jaw clenching.

            Is he seriously going to answer me? Sanzo opening up?

            "You're stupid."

            Not quite what I was looking for.

            "If you really think I run my life based on someone else's rules. Since when do I follow any other edicts the Buddha laid out?" Sanzo asked levelly, puffing a cloud of smoke into Gojyo's face for emphasis. "It's bullshit."

            "Then why…"

            "I don't like meat. I haven't since I was a kid, and got sick on bad pork. The smell of it alone makes me nauseous."

            The kappa smiled softly at the small confession. He would bet his life that neither Hakkai nor Goku knew this about their leader.

            "I didn't know that."

            "Of course you didn't," Sanzo snorted, snatching another Marlboro from the half-emptied packet and using Gojyo's Zippo to light it. A small silence stretched between them, and the hanyou bridged the gap before it became too wide to risk crossing again.

            "So then, the reason you're…celibate…isn't for Buddha?"

            "Why should He care either way?"

            Gojyo shrugged. "I figured it was more the other monks who cared."

            Sanzo made a sound of revulsion, "they live their lives for someone who doesn't even care—maybe doesn't even exist. It's a waste."

            Gojyo thought that perhaps it was not, but Sanzo surely wouldn't have been happy there. He knew his friend had been scarred by the Koumyou Sanzo's death, and that would have haunted him if he had stayed locked up behind those walls. It still haunted him, free though he was, each time it rained.

            It dawned on Gojyo then that Koumyou was the reason Sanzo didn't love anymore. Not that sex required love, but perhaps it intimated something for Sanzo that the kappa didn't understand. He had been wounded by the death of the only person he had ever cared about, and Sanzo wasn't one to be wounded in the same place twice. He was a master at erecting defenses.

            As if he read his eyes, Sanzo pulled back, looking at him curiously. "Whatever you're thinking, don't."

            "Sanzo…if you'd open--"

            "I don't want your lectures, kappa. Sex for pleasure is senseless, and for love, dangerous. I carry nothing." Sanzo stood and tossed Gojyo's lighter back to him, turning his back and walking towards the denser edge of the clearing.

            "That's a lie." Gojyo said it loudly enough to force Sanzo to turn around. "You say you carry nothing, so you can avoid getting hurt. But you still carry the pain of his death—and it's eating you up inside. If you're not going to go all the way with muichimoto, it's not worth doing. If you're gonna carry pain around, you should carry something good, too."

            Sanzo had approached him again, fury written across his face, and Gojyo met his zeal, passion for passion, and grasped his wrists tightly the moment he was in reach. "I'm not going to die on you," he vowed, leaning forward so that their mouths were mere inches apart. "I'll love you any way you want, but I won't leave you." He jerked at the priest's wrists to hold him still, pulling them to his waist, and leaned down to press their lips together in a passionate kiss. Gojyo never did anything halfway.

            When they parted, the scene replayed itself in Gojyo's mind again, as though he had observed it from afar. Sanzo had been startled, but frozen to the spot. The kappa's mouth had pressed with flawless expertise over his; their embrace was chaste, but ardent. Gojyo had peeked from beneath his dark lashes to view Sanzo's wide, violet eyes. In them he saw a disconcerting emotion, one he had never before witnessed on the monk: panic. Sanzo had pushed him away.

            Gojyo waited for the gun, but nothing came. Sanzo still stood there, his damp mane drying fast, but still reflecting the moonlight. The kappa reached out hesitantly, when he saw his quarry wasn't planning fight, but if anything, flight. "Sanzo…"

            His hand was snatched by a surprisingly strong set of slender fingers, squeezed, and thrust back to his side. And suddenly Sanzo was on him, arms about his neck, kissing him with a fervor to match Gojyo's own. It was evident to the kappa that, although he was so careful to never explicitly admit to it, he was in every way a "Cherry-chan." His kiss was novice, but more endearing, arousing, because of it. His evident hunger made up for any slip of technique.

             Gojyo's mind tumbled ahead of itself as his hands slid down Sanzo's back, thinking about what pleasures he could teach the monk before the night was over. Sanzo would have everything he could give.

            "Angh…" the blonde made a soft noise of pleasure, akin to a groan. It made Gojyo's knees weak. They parted only long enough to catch their breath, but didn't allow themselves enough time, or oxygen, to truly process what was happening between them.

            "Sanzo…" Gojyo groaned his name, mouth sliding down the ivory column of his neck, hands at his back.

            Hearing his name must have stirred something within him, because he stopped, pulling back and wiping his sleeve across his lips. "Stop," he breathed, but did not appear angry, much to Gojyo's relief.

            "I'm not your whore." It wasn't a refusal, but rather a clarification.

            "I know that," the kappa murmured. He should have been more insulted than he was.

            "If we do this, no more of…what you do, ero-kappa."

            Gojyo nodded, moving to touch him again, needing to feel that warm body against his. Sanzo's elegant hands fisted in his robes as he unfastened the top and let it fall and hang about his waist, revealing the black leather undershirt he wore.

            "You'll be mine." Sanzo warned.

            Gojyo grinned. "I'd like nothing better."

            They came together quickly, clinging to one another in a flurry of kisses and petting. Sanzo mastered the kiss very quickly, but was slow to learn with his tongue. He seemed to prefer Gojyo's taking control and stroking the back of his throat with his versatile muscle. Or at least that is what the kappa gathered from a series of incomprehensible moans.

            They staggered back, mouths parting rarely, and only for air and gasps. Gojyo pressed the blonde-haired monk up against a tree as his damp mouth made its way from his lover's jaw line to his shoulders. "Take it off," he rasped, chest laboring with heavy breaths.

            Sanzo obeyed, removing the slick leather shirt and gloves, and tossing them to the side. His chest, alabaster and equally smooth, flowed in a seamless pattern, free of scars. Gojyo grinned and dipped his head to press a soft kiss over his left nipple. The priest threw his head back in a wanton moan, allowing his hands to fist in Gojyo's sleek crimson hair. That intimacy sparked a new desire in the kappa's mind; he stood and sought out the already-bruising lips that had welcomed him so eagerly moments ago, and let his hands glide through silky blonde hair. A soft groan slid from his lips and into Sanzo's mouth. His mane was just as soft as it looked, and Gojyo wondered if there was another texture there too, softer, smoother, that his callused hands couldn't sense.

            "Mngh," the older man pushed him away, but gently, and met his impassioned countenance evenly, with one as controlled as it always was. He refused Gojyo's advances until the kappa met his ante. Gojyo shrugged out of his vest and lifted his white tank over his head, shaking his hair out as he let it float to the side. He watched his lover's reaction with glee; Sanzo seemed enthralled by the strong, sweat-slicked bronze revealed to him. Gojyo didn't work out per se, but most of his daily exercise, if he had any at all, was stressful and of a long duration. The gym couldn't reveal finer results than fighting youkai.

            Long ivory fingers slid up his chest, stroking the skin rather roughly, then using his nails as he leaned closer. Gojyo growled and upped the ante. He slid his hands down to his waist, where he could feel Sanzo's body pushing up against him, and unfastened his belt. Shortly after, he kicked off his pants and fell upon the priest with wild hunger, only fueled by Sanzo's reciprocation.

            Little, unholy grunts escaped the monk as he met the challenge. He removed his robes and unbuckled his jeans, breathing heavily against Gojyo's neck as he struggled to regain control. The sprite shook his head and tsked. Lips to ear, he breathed, "gods you're gorgeous, monk."

            Sanzo made a sound of impatience and snapped the waistband of Gojyo's boxers roughly, as though plucking the string of lyre. He leaned back against the tree, breathless, and bared his throat in an enticing display. It was a lure. Gojyo slipped out of his boxers and took the bait, biting and licking the base of his throat, growing increasingly excited as Sanzo writhed and moaned against him. Soon he felt the priest's arousal grinding against his thigh, barely contained by his jeans. He made a point to remember that; it was noteworthy that the great Sanzo didn't wear underwear.

            "Gods…" Gojyo moaned, kneeling before him and tugging his jeans down his narrow hips with ease. He looked up at the blushing monk with a little smirk, flicking his tongue over the tip of Sanzo's arousal. "Nice," he whispered, shocking the blonde and then silencing him as he swallowed him completely, nose pressed to the fine golden fleece between his legs. The silence was that of shock, and short-lived.

            Sanzo howled.

            Gojyo didn't mind the wait; he hardly had a gag reflex, and Sanzo was new at this, and wouldn't last long. Besides, the monk tasted wonderful.

            He was right; swallowing within the minute, Gojyo stood and kissed his gasping lover, gently dipping his tongue into that hot, damp mouth and letting him taste himself. "Mnngh, good?" The hanyou queried, nuzzling his jaw as he pushed himself flush against a hardened ivory form.

            "Yes," Sanzo breathed, violet eyes bright, but glazed with pleasure. His hair was in disarray, and Gojyo strove to fix that before anything else.

            Pulling away a moment, the sprite knelt beside his discarded pants and pulled, from a lower pocket, a small tube no larger than a thumb. He popped the cap and coated his hand in it, then his arousal. He couldn't help but moan as he did so.

            "So it is red," Sanzo murmured, watching the kappa grin.

            "Yeah."

 He was gentle, preparing Sanzo with the utmost care and distracting him with long, passionate kisses. He tasted so good, like rain. Gojyo supported the small of his back, able to feel his spine as the monk would arch, and held one slender leg up about his own waist, leaving the other to Sanzo to maintain. Sanzo wasn't anything like he had expected. Rather than trying to keep a calm façade—or perhaps he was trying—he allowed himself to feel the pleasure Gojyo was so eager to give him. He would moan, or gasp in pleasure at the kappa's expert touches. When his prostate was nudged, he let out a scream, head falling back as he fought for breath and balance. Gojyo's pace quickened, thrusting Sanzo up against the tree so that soon the priest's breathing pattern matched that of his lover's hips.

            He began to stroke Sanzo, who had become excited once again, as he neared his climax. Cresting, he groaned out his lover's name, easing them both down to the ground after the priest had let out his breathless cry.

            They lay in the tall, cool grass, panting and gasping as their lungs sought to balloon at an impossible pace. Gojyo rolled over onto his side and drew Sanzo close, kissing him tenderly and cupping his cheek in one palm. He noted that there were red streaks down his back and bits of bark stuck to his skin where he had been leaning.

            "Don't coddle me," Sanzo growled, kissing Gojyo roughly. "It's obvious you want it again. So do it."

            The two stayed out late that night, and both failed to notice the darkening of the night sky as the moon's glow was muffled by a passing celestial body. Sanzo's glow, too, was weakened by the change he underwent. But like the shining pearl overhead, as he reemerged from the transformation, he only seemed to blaze that much brighter.

 

 

Waning Gibbous

 

            "Hakkai! Hakkai, wake up!" Goku shook the sleeping healer roughly atop his pallet, brown eyes wide with panic.

            "Goku, what is it? It's nowhere near breakfast time…"

            "I know, but Sanzo and Gojyo aren't back yet! Do you think they're in trouble? Can you sense any youkai around?"

            "What? No. They're not back yet?"

            "That's what I just said!" Goku repeated, tugging at his shirt. "C'mon, what if they're hurt or somethin'?!"

            Hakkai smiled in that way that irritated Goku beyond belief. It said, "I know, but I can't tell you yet." Because I'm too little?

            "I'm sure they're fine, Goku. In fact, why don't we share a tent for tonight?"

            "What's the point, if they're not coming back?"

            "They'll come back. I just think it would be better, so we aren't awoken again." He smiled and lay back down. "Go get your sleeping bag and come in here with me."

            "But Hakkai-"

            "Ah, if you let me get my sleep, we can get to the next town even faster. I hear it's big, and we might be able to get cinnamon buns for breakfast tomorrow morning."

            In the blink of an eye Goku had dragged his sleeping pallet into Hakkai's tent and plopped himself upon it in a sleeping position. "Lemme know if they get back, 'kay?"

            "Alright, if I'm awake…" Hakkai promised, a secret smile on his lips as he fell asleep.

 

            Gojyo and Sanzo returned to the camp late that evening, exhausted and messy. They had been too tired, and the stream too cold, to take a bath. Gojyo was pleased to find his tent free of monkeys, and tugged Sanzo in with him. Once inside, he ventured a small smile at the priest, kissing his cheek and temple as they lay down together.

            "Not here, you idiot kappa," Sanzo growled, his personality having undergone a complete reversal from the passionate man who had been eager for Gojyo less than an hour ago.

            "It's justa hug…lemme sleep beside you."

            "No. Not here," Sanzo repeated, shoving him off and sliding under his own blankets, eyes closing as he swatted off an offending hand. "Ero-kappa."

            "Cherry—oh. I guess I can't call you that anymore."

            Snores responded.

 

            The Sanzo Ikkou was on the road by eight o'clock sharp the next morning. Hakkai, in a brisk, cheerful mood, took careful note that two of his passengers were incredibly exhausted. He couldn't resist a little tease.

            "We were worried about you two last night; you didn't come back until—well it must have been quite late. Goku and I fell asleep."

            "Yeah," Goku chimed in, "Did you run into youkai?"

            "Yeah, a whole horde," Gojyo supplied.

            "No." Sanzo said simply.

            "Well you both look exhausted," Hakkai summed up. "I think you ought to sleep—Goku, try to keep quiet so they can get their rest, alright?" Hakkai smiled at him through the rearview mirror.

            "They still haven't told us where they went!" Goku protested, but was quickly distracted when Gojyo shoved a cookie in his face. "Eat this, ape."

            "I'm not an ape!" Goku snapped through a mouthful of snicker doodle.

            "No fighting now, please. Hakuryu has a headache," Hakkai informed them. Sanzo groaned and threatened the harisen, but found himself dozing soon after.

 

            As Hakkai promised, they reached the next town on their journey west by nightfall. Gojyo and Sanzo, well-rested from the drive, were as restless as Goku. The kappa was pleased to find that Sanzo was as eager as he was to get to their bedrooms.

            "They have four available," Hakkai offered, but Sanzo pulled out the goldcard and passed it over the wooden countertop to the portly man near the cash register.

            "Two rooms."

            "Two!" Goku protested. "But you snore, Sanzo!"

            Sanzo sent him a death glare and shook his head. "The Three Aspects will have my head if you max this thing out, bakazaru!" He hit him over the head with his harisen, and Goku whined the entire climb up the stairs. "But you snore."

            "Fine. Stay with Hakkai," Sanzo growled, and Gojyo couldn't help but admire the way he set up their situation perfectly. "I'm exhausted, and I need a shower. Don't bother me," he warned, alluding to that sacred Sanzo-time that, as far as Hakkai and Goku knew, involved only Marlboros, tea, and a newspaper. Gojyo couldn't help the wide grin on his face as he followed Sanzo into the room. Hakkai's and Goku's was next door.

            "Great idea," Gojyo said, tugging his vest and shirt off. "You had me believin' you."

            "Why shouldn't you?" Sanzo removed his robes and shirt, ignoring Gojyo's stares as he walked towards the bathroom.

            "Hey where're you goin'!?"

            "To shower. Idiot." He closed the door behind him and, to the kappa's dismay, locked it. Soon after he heard the shower water running and sank onto the edge of the mattress with a sigh.

 

            Hakkai didn't mind the sounds of love coming from the next room, but he thought that their neighbors might, and he hoped they wouldn't receive any complaints. He really didn't think they needed to be making human enemies too, along the way. Perhaps they would only assume the two were a honeymooning couple, and deserved a little time together. Thankfully Goku was asleep, and his embarrassing questions could be saved for another day.

            Hakkai read Sanzo's newspaper, which he had entirely forgotten to bring with him. It was a confounding situation, really. The healer smiled, hearing a thud as the headboard next door hit the wall behind it. They probably weren't aware that all the rooms were not arranged in the same fashion. His bed was separated from theirs by a mere wall of wood.

            At the sharp cries and gasps that followed, Hakkai blushed, wondering what secrets Gojyo must know to make Sanzo scream like that.

            "Hakkai?" Goku sat up in bed, scratching his frizzy head. "I'm kinda hungry again."

            Another bang from the room next door caught Goku's attention. He leaped up. "What's goin' on!"

            "Nothing, Goku. What was it you were saying?"

            "Izz'er a fight!"

            "No. I promise."

            "Then what's going on? Are they fighting? With each other?" He was cracking his knuckles in anticipation already.

            "Ah…in a manner of speaking, yes." Hakkai smiled at the thought. "But don't go running in, you know very well that they both might turn on you. Do you really want to be on the receiving end of the harisen again?"

            Goku recoiled and decided it was best to leave them be. Hakkai offered to go to the lobby and bring up a snack for him.

            "Thanks Hakkai! But tomorrow morning, we'll tell them to take their fighting outside next time, okay? I can't get any sleep; it's worse than Sanzo's snoring!"

 

            The next morning Goku expressed his surprise at the breakfast table to a smirking Hakkai and exhausted Gojyo over Sanzo's change of their schedule. "Instead of leaving at eight, we don't get off 'till nine? Is Sanzo sick, cockroach?"

            "Don't call me that you stupid monkey," Gojyo growled, sipping tentatively at a mug of steaming coffee. "He's just sore."

            Goku glowered at the redhead, and then at Hakkai, who seemed to share in his joke. What the hell was going on? Was he sore from their fight—but if Gojyo hurt Sanzo badly enough for him to delay their departure, surely Hakkai would be in there healing him, or at least scolding Gojyo for his fight. "From the fighting?"

            "Yeah, sure," Gojyo said, nose in the cup. "Shit that tastes awful."

            Hakkai's smile never faded; he passed Goku the plate of muffins when beckoned, and looked relieved to see the monkey's mouth occupied with food. "The next town won't be for a few days," Hakkai murmured.

            "Yeah?" Gojyo ran a hand through his hair; it was still slightly damp from the shower. "How many is 'a few'?"

            "Two to three, depending on how accurate our maps are, and how much ground Hakuryu can cover."

            "So we'd better get supplies."

            "Already taken care of," Hakkai promised.

            "Yeah," Goku swallowed a mouthful of blueberry muffin and wiped his mouth on the cuff of his sleeve. "While you were still sleepin' we went out and bought a buncha stuff. Lucky for us Sanzo left his card with Hakkai last night. Wonder why…"

            "Never mind why," Gojyo grinned, and Goku growled as he watched Hakkai return it.

            "What's goin' on?! Is Sanzo hurt really bad?"

            "No, Goku, don't worry yourself over it," the healer murmured, dropping a cube of sugar into his tea and stirring it with a small spoon.

            "I wanna know what's going on!" Goku demanded, glowering at the two demons and smacking his fists down atop the wooden table. Hakkai's teacup rattled on its saucer.

            "Shut up, bakasaru, or I'll beat you," Sanzo threatened, approaching their table with a glare. "It's time to go. Move it."

            "Hey sleeping beauty's up," Gojyo grinned, tugging playfully at Sanzo's robes and earning a thwack from the harisen in return.

            "Hey you sonuva--"

            "Sanzo!" Goku screeched, leaping over Gojyo's lap and landing neatly before the monk. "You look fine." He began rapidly inspecting him for wounds, but found nothing amiss. "I thought for sure you were all beat up!"

            "What the hell are you doing you ape?" Gojyo snatched at him, but Goku dodged expertly, still inspecting Sanzo, peering up the sleeves of his robe and around the neck. "Sanzo!" Goku gasped, tugging the collar of his leather shirt back. "You are wounded! Lotsa bruises on your neck. They're all red—Hakkai can you take a loo--"

            Sanzo shoved him off roughly, flinging him onto Hakkai's lap and causing them both to tumble over, nearly breaking the rickety chair. "Watch it bakasaru!" Sanzo bellowed, bringing down the harisen twice upon Goku's head, flattening his porcupine hair. Gojyo smirked, knowing Goku was the only one of them who could get away with touching Sanzo publicly without serious punishment.

            "Let's go get into the jeep now, okay Goku?" Hakkai was leading him out the door, calling to Hakuryu.

            "But Hakkai, those wounds looked bad. Like spider bites, even! You should look at them…"

            Gojyo stood and flipped a few dollars on the table for a tip, grinning to the fair-haired priest. "Yeah Houshi-sama," He drawled, "Where did you get such awful looking bruises?"

            Sanzo smirked icily at him. "I don't know, but I can assure you, I won't have anymore."

            Gojyo's face fell and he trailed after Sanzo, walking closer to him than he usually did, but not touching. The priest had already established the unspoken rules between them. No touching in public, no blatant references to "them" in public, and of course, for Gojyo, no flirting with others.

            The kappa found it a bit unfair that he wasn't allowed to flirt with anyone anymore. He'd be perfectly content doing so with Sanzo, but the nasty-tempered monk would probably shoot him in the face for making their relations seem any more intimate than sworn enemies who had called a truce. Hakkai knew, of course, but the way he smiled when he spoke, regardless of the topic, kept their secret under wraps for the time being. Goku might have been five centuries in age, but in experience he might as well have been a ten year old. Gojyo loved to taunt him by making vague allusions to the others, and hear him whine about how they all kept secrets from him.

            "Hakkai did you happen to pick up my Hi-Lites while you were out this morning?" Gojyo asked pleasantly, knowing that if he could, he could ration the last box and a half he had for the next three days. It would be tricky, and he might have to bum some of Sanzo's disgusting Marlboros, but he could manage.

            "Yes, they're in one of the small brown bags. I think I put them back there…" Hakkai only emerged from his thoughts long enough to answer the question. Shortly after, he was once again focusing on the road with a blank stare, letting Hakuryu self-navigate a bit.

            "I can't find any…" Gojyo muttered, searching the white bags packed with rations and Goku's cookie supply.

            "Don't touch the snicker doodles," the monkey warned.

            "Are they up front?" The kappa moved between the front seats, smirking to Sanzo as he purposely leaned over his body to snatch a bag sitting atop the dash. "'Scuse me Baldy," he plucked the crinkled paper up and slid back towards his seat, one palm brushing over Sanzo's robe covered thigh as he did so. He received a quick whack with the harisen and muttered curse, but nothing more. It made him smile.

            "Well that's odd." Goku commented through a mouthful of cookie. "There's no cinnamon on this at all."

            "You're odd." Gojyo muttered, thanking Hakkai for his purchase as he lit up. "Whew this is gonna be one helluva long ride."

            Hakkai looked to him with a deceiving smile, "Isn't it always?"

 

            They pitched tents and lit a campfire within a day's ride of the nearest village. A traveler on the road, riding camelback, had informed them that their map was a bit off, and they were in fact closer than they had thought. Hakkai promised a whining Goku that by the next night they would be able to eat at a restaurant. It contented the monkey, and he asked for his double-rations that night at dinner. Hakkai relented.

            The four of them sat about a flickering camp fire, each in various stages of discomfort. Goku's stomach was—or so he claimed—cramping from hunger despite the meal Hakkai had prepared. Gojyo was freezing, still unused to desert nights and their drops in temperature. He ran his hands up over his arms, wishing he had some sort of coat or cloak. His vest did little to protect him from the wind. Hakkai, sitting opposite the kappa, looked a bit chilly too. He stressed and agonized over the distance key of the map. Sanzo was the only one who looked passably content. He never required much food to function, his robes were heavy enough to keep him warm, and the distance they had to travel really didn't matter, so long as they spent their time on the move.

            "I'm still hungry."

            "Shut up."

            "Why can't we set him free to join his monkey brethren in the jungle?"

            "Now, now…"

 

            Goku, despite his complaints of gnawing hunger, retired to his tent and sleeping bag, and could be heard snoring soundly from anywhere in the campsite.

            Hakkai folded his maps and tucked them into a hidden pocket of his green shirt, smiling pleasantly, unnervingly, to Gojyo. "Is it that you want me to bunk with Goku again? Or is there a more preferable arrangement?"

            "There is," Sanzo interrupted. "You bunk with the idiot and the monkey, Hakkai."

            "Hey! Don't be a tease," Gojyo grinned, moving to sit closer to the monk. "Who's gonna keep me warm tonight?"

            "Ask Hakkai." The priest replied, a flicker of a smile pulling at the corners of his lips. He rose and made his way to his tent, but entered without a final threat.

            "Guess I'll be bunking with houshi-sama," Gojyo patted Hakkai's shoulder and slipped into the tent, zipping up the flap behind him.

            "Hey." Lowering his voice to a whisper, he began untying his shoes, and letting his eyes adjust to the near-darkness of the canvas walls. "Those robes keep you warm?"

            "Yes. No, you can't share them. Nor," Sanzo began again, when he heard Gojyo's vocal cords contract in an attempt to speak, "can you share my pallet."

            "Aw Sanzo c'mon. I really am cold. Feel my skin," He leaned close, wrapping his arms about the priest's waist and pressing his cheek to a slender neck. "See?" He held on despite increasingly violent attempts to fling him off. "C'mon, I'll be real quiet…" He promised, nipping at a sensitive ear. "You're usually the noisy one anyways…"

            "No." Flinging him off, Sanzo slipped into his sleeping bag and zipped it up against Gojyo's entrance, turning his back to the hanyou. "Shut up and sleep."

            "What's the problem?" He was forced to burrow into his own pallet for the sake of warmth. "You didn't object last night at the inn. In fact you said a lot in favor of it," Gojyo purred. "I'll keep you warm?"

            "At the inn, we had walls between us and them," Sanzo hissed. "How stupid are you? I don't want the monkey waking up and hearing us."

            "Why? Are you embarrassed? Hakkai knows."

            "I'm aware of that. You could do a little less advertising to the general public though."

            "What!" Gojyo was honestly stunned. He had practically been a monk himself in public because of Sanzo's orders. "I don't even touch you in public! You won't let me close. You still hit me for flirting!"

            "That's because of the way you do it. You're practically drooling--"

            "Can I help it?"

            "—And you make what you're after too obvious."

            Gojyo breathed a ragged sigh, unable to please his lover once again. "Can I at least get into the sleeping bag with you? I'm really cold."

            "No."

            "I won't try anything. I swear. Just let me sleep with you."

            Sanzo relented, opening the covers and letting Gojyo slide in behind him. He felt the warm arms encircle his narrow waist, and a lean cheek pillow itself near his hair.

            "Angh you're warm…" The kappa murmured, red eyes falling shut. "It's surprising how much heat you can retain. I guess it's because of that temper."

            "Gojyo?"

            "Yeah?" His voice breathy, he leaned closer, hopeful.

            "Shut the hell up."

            "'Kay babe."

 

            When he woke up, Sanzo had left the tent, and the temperature had risen to a scorching ninety-five degrees. The sun was only halfway up.

            "Damn. It's gonna be a killer today…"

            "Hurry up you damn kappa!" He heard Sanzo bark from outside of the tent, letting loose a few stray bullets. Gojyo ducked instinctively, though he was sure they were fired at the sky.

            "Sanzo, you maybe shouldn't waste so many bullets…"

            "Hakkai I'm hungry."

            "Pipe down, ape," Gojyo began unfolding the tent from inside, and crawled out of the canvas once it collapsed. "So Hakkai, how long was it, 'till the next town?"

            "Oh only another day's ride, I believe."

            "No more talk. Get into the damned dragon," Sanzo growled, his hair mussed from sleep, the kappa noticed with a smirk. His robes were a bit crinkled too.

            "Yare, yare, Sanzo-sama," Hakkai murmured, climbing into the driver's seat and taking off the second Goku was seated.

            "Hey! Watch the acceleration Hakkai! I almost flew out of the back."
            "Maybe he should use his lead foot more often," Gojyo mused aloud.

            "Shut up stupid, horny kappa!"
            "At least I'm not a gluttonous monkey."

            "Enough!" Sanzo snarled, whirling and smacking them both roughly with the harisen. It took all of the redhead's will power not to make a comment about pent up energy being released in all the wrong ways.

            "Ah, now I rather wish Hakuryu did have a radio," Hakkai said with a pleasant smile.

 

            The inn was tiny, and they had secured only two shoebox rooms, each with two narrow beds, and the promise of a meager dinner if they were on time. Worst of all, Gojyo noted at once, no booze.

            "Hakkai I'm gonna starve if all they have is rice and veggies. I really, really need some meat. Pork, beef, turkey, chicken, lamb, goose, pheasant, duck," Goku began listing all of his preferences aloud as they trudged up the rickety stairs towards their rooms for the night.

            "I can't believe the price of this place, considering what it is," Gojyo muttered. Although it wasn't his money being spent, he was irked at the lack of even the most basic pub—it was what Hakkai called a "dry county." He called it hell.

            "And for sides I'm not picky," the monkey continued, counting off on his fingers now. "I like stuffing, potatoes, fried and baked and roasted, uhm, cornbread and beans…"

            "Well we're just lucky we found one," the healer passed off one of his tired smiles as his excuse and fished through his pocket for the small, rusty keys that led to their rooms. "I just hope they're clean."

            "Don't bet on it," the monk, in a tetchier mood than usual, cracked his knuckles in impatience.

            "Oh and desserts, I love all pies and cakes, and especially chocolate pudding. But I did hear the guy near the little restaurant downstairs—when did you say it opened again?—talking about cinnamon bread. That's something, at least…"

            "Would you shut up about food?" Gojyo growled, snatching the key from Hakkai, who was wiggling it uselessly in the slot, and kneed the door open with a grunt. "Shitty locks."

            "Cinnamon bread?" Hakkai turned to the priest as if expecting a smile in return for his own. "Well there you go Sanzo. Something you can eat." The hidden barb directed at the pickiest eater of the group flew over Gojyo's head; all he caught was that Sanzo liked cinnamon. How come he didn't know that?

            "Houshi-sama does have a sweet-tooth?" Gojyo feigned amazement. "Usually you refuse whatever we end up ordering. You even turned down angel food cake. To think a priest would reject angel food--"

            "Yeah, but Sanzo'll eat cinnamon." Goku shrugged. "I remember, 'cause I lost the last cinnamon bun a couplea weeks ago at the inn…"

            "In all fairness," Hakkai was rattling the key to Gojyo's and Sanzo's room in the lock now, and looking pleadingly towards the kappa for assistance. He didn't want to break down the door. "Sanzo rarely eats anything, and if he finds something he likes, he ought to have it."           

            "Of course," Goku agreed, ducking away from an angry swat from the priest. Sanzo hated being talked about in the third person when he was standing right there.

            Gojyo shoved the door open. "It smells like smoke." The kappa said flatly.

            "Should that bother you?" Hakkai handed Sanzo his key.

            "Yours doesn't."

            "Goku and I don't smoke."

            "You mean I'm rooming with you again, Hakkai?" Goku stopped his recitation of a cornucopia of favorite foods. 

            "Is that a problem?"

            "No," Goku shook his head quickly. "You let me eat in bed, and Sanzo doesn't.

            "So long as we're not sharing one, and you clean up." Hakkai stipulated.

            "Guys can we go eat now?"

            "Aa." Sanzo nodded. "I'm hungry."

 

            Dinner went surprisingly well; there was minimal fighting, and even Goku seemed content with the meal. Despite its simplicity, rice, vegetables, baked bread, and scalloped potatoes, the dishes were bottomless. The cook had few to serve; the inn was so small that only three others were staying at the same time, and only one of them had chosen that night to dine.

            Hakkai attributed the pleasant ambiance to a lack of alcohol, Goku to an endless source of food, and Gojyo to a vegetarian dish and cinnamon-flecked dessert. Sanzo hadn't uttered a single grumpy word since they sat down. Or many at all.

            "Pass the potatoes," Goku requested, having just finished the small stack on his plate.

            "You're like a garbage disposal," Gojyo said with a smirk, handing the warm bowl over anyways. "Need salt?"        

            "Thanks I'm good."

            Hakkai beamed at their getting along like a mother, and Gojyo made a comment on it that bounced off his gleaming smile-shield. The kappa did not let it slip under his radar that Sanzo had a second slice of the hostess' cinnamon bread. He grinned, an idea forming in his head, and sat back as everyone else finished their dinner.

 

            "Wow even I'm stuffed," Goku said triumphantly, as though his hunger had taken on anthropomorphic form and been brutally defeated. "There may be snoring tonight, Hakkai. Just to warn you."

            "Oh I'll survive," he promised in return. They walked through the small lobby, decorated with a single picture over the mantle, and cluttered by the sofa and four small chairs nearby. It was almost as small as the bedrooms.

            "How was dinner for you?" their hostess asked kindly, her steel-colored hair wrapped in a tight bun behind her head. She wore a simple dress that fell to her ankles, with sleeves that stretched to her wrists.

            "Great!" Goku gave her a thumbs up, "I can't wait 'till breakfast." It made the old woman laugh, and even Sanzo had to thank her for the meal.

            "I'm glad to see more travelers using our inn. Usually we have only about ten or twelve people a month from the outside. I suppose it's because it's so small. But everything is clean and neat. How much room can a body really need though, for a single night?"

            Hakkai agreed with her for politeness' sake, and of the four of them, he was entrapped in a long conversation, filled mostly with listening. The others stole away to their rooms. The healer didn't seem to mind his "predicament."

            "G'night you guys," Goku called, closing the door to his room with some difficulty. It creaked, and because of Gojyo's vicious assault an hour ago, refused to close all the way without a good kick.

            "Careful with that door, you ingrate." The priest closed his the moment Gojyo was inside too, and plucked out a pack of Marlboros, tossing the kappa his Zippo after lighting up.

            "Hey when did you snatch that?"

            "While you were sleeping this morning. I still need a new one," Sanzo explained with a shrug, fingering the narrow white cylinder in his hand.

            Gojyo just smiled to him, shrugging off his vest and then peeling his tank top from his torso. "So we're in a hotel now. With walls," he emphasized, looking around as if to demonstrate.

            "Very good. Now spell your name."

            "Sanzo!"

            He received a cloud of smoke in response.

            "So are we gonna do it?" He asked, giving the icy-eyed monk his most endearing grin. With the ladies, it had never failed. Nor with the few guys on whom he had tested it. But Sanzo was a different case.

            Snorting in distaste, the blonde stubbed out his cigarette on the ash tray and rose, shrugging off the shoulders of his robes. Gojyo felt his stomach grow warm and then catch on fire. He was going to let him off this easily? The kappa grinned. Must be my charm's finally workin' on him…

            Opening his arms to draw the gorgeous priest close, he stumbled as Sanzo turned and headed to the hall.

            "I'm going to take a shower." He said flatly, brushing past the redhead. "Be here when I get back."

            Gojyo didn't know his face could alter its expression as fluidly as it did then. He promised, and leaned against the doorframe. Yup. I'm smitten.

 

            The creaking of the stairs announced his presence. Hakkai and their old hostess looked up with tiny, tired smiles. "Uh…hey." Gojyo hadn't wanted to interrupt, because that might lead to conversation. Sanzo had told him to be there, and he didn't want to risk the priest's anger by appearing to have stood him up. He just needed something.

            "Gojyo what are you doing up?"

            "I was lookin' for something."

            "Oh is it something I can help you with?" The hostess stood and gestured for him to come forward. "Coffee, maybe?"

            "No, actually…do you have any cinnamon, left over?"

            "Cinnamon?" She looked confused, but nodded. "Oh yes. Why? Oh, for your coffee?"

            "No, no coffee for me thanks." He trailed after her, assuming she was headed toward the kitchen. He caught a glimpse of Hakkai as their hostess excused herself; his left eye gleamed knowingly. Gojyo blushed.

            "Yes of course I have some, and you're welcome to it. I have sugar too, or cream, if you need some of that?"

            Did she still think he had coffee upstairs? "No, thank you. Cinnamon's fine…" He watched her tiny hand place a clear glass jar of powdered red into his large, open palm. "Thank you."

            "Oh not a problem. You know, my grandfather used to put vanilla in his coffee. To each his own, I say."

            "Right," he agreed, hovering in the low doorway and trying not to be rude—she reminded him of the old woman they had met at the start of their journey, the grandmother of the runaway youkai's fiancée.

            "Well have a good night, then. Breakfast will be around seven thirty."

            "Thanks," he smiled, waving and making a break for it. Hakkai was halfway up the stairs when he brushed past him.

            "Have a good night, Gojyo." His tone indicated he knew exactly what sort of night the kappa was in for.

            "You too," came the reply, accompanied by a shrug. The small jar of cinnamon sat in his front pocket.

 

            The moon, growing smaller now, though still greater than half, glittered in a clear, diamond-studded sky overhead. Clear wisps of silver stroked the well-trod wooden floorboards and caressed the rough cotton sheets of the bed, making them appear sleek and satiny. Gojyo lay naked beneath the white linens of his bed and Sanzo's. He had pulled the two cots together to form a more suitable environment. Cheek pillowed in a crimson mane, he had only to tilt his head to watch the way the moonlight slid over it, almost hesitantly. Something had changed. Where the silvery glow seemed to dodge his limbs and reflect only on the surfaces around him before, now it slid shyly over his body and allowed a small, radiant glow to form. Even on his hair. He smiled in triumph. Winning the moon's affection was so much like winning Sanzo's.

            He let his gaze traverse the room, peering at the whitewashed walls and rickety, well-sanded chair that leaned opposite their beds. The night table on his side of the bed had originally been between both the cots. It rested empty, a smooth, glowing surface, except for a small, thumb-sized bottle and the glass jar of cinnamon. Gojyo opened the little drawer below and slid the jar inside. He had carefully rubbed the sweet-scented spice onto the small of his neck, and about the sides, wondering if Sanzo would notice. He had thought the monk despised anything sweet-tasting, but Hakkai had so kindly pointed out his weakness. He never would have guessed it.

            The door swung open, and Sanzo walked in with a fluffy towel draped about his naked shoulders. His clothing was folded neatly in his arms, and his jeans, half-zipped, clung low on his hips.

            "Hey," Gojyo grinned, sitting up and letting the sheets slide down in what he perceived to be a tempting manner. He was getting excited from the mere sight of him.

            "Ch." Sanzo rested his robes on the chair as he nudged the door shut with his foot. He then ran the towel through his mane again, giving the kappa a perfect view of his narrow back and the tensing muscles there as his arms swept over his head.

            The sprite whistled in appreciation. "Moonlight suits you."

            Sanzo turned sharply at that, a light flush peppering his cheekbones. Gojyo skimmed his memory; had he said something wrong, hit a sensitive nerve? No…Sanzo was just blushing. Pleased, maybe?

            Sanzo stepped forward, but stopped, glancing at the window.

            "No one will see us," Gojyo assured him, and then, facing further hesitation, he smirked. "Gonna drop those jeans?"

            To his surprise, Sanzo did so. It was a slow, sensual action, though he was certain it hadn't been done that way for his benefit. He watched the denim slide to the floor with a soft moan, eyes tracing the soft gold fleece of his lover's groin.

            "C'mere, monk." His voice was husky when he voiced the request, and a flick of his finger gestured his lover foreword. His tongue touched his lower lip, and he batted long lashes in his best (and well-practiced) come hither expression. Sanzo took the bait.

            The mattress creaked a bit when he sat, and Gojyo shifted. Sanzo didn't touch him, except to kiss him tenderly, and then carefully glide his flat palms up the kappa's strong chest. It made Gojyo want to pin him down and take him in an instant, but he restrained himself. Sanzo's violet eyes became hazy in good time, and he slipped his arms about the narrow, ivory waist, letting the monk lie over him with a long groan.

            "Sanzo…"

            "Shut up," the blonde mumbled, kissing him again, roughly, possessively. Wantonly, Gojyo realized. And then he caught the faint scent, he must have, for he dipped his head low, over the junction of Gojyo's shoulder and neck.

            "What the hell, kappa?"

            "I just thought you might like it," he said with a small grin, shifting his hips in the sheets. "You did at dinner."

            The fair-haired man gave him the patented, "you stupid kappa" expression, but obliged him nonetheless. And if Gojyo had to guess, he would guess that Sanzo liked it.

            "Ngh…baby that feels so good," The redhead groaned, tilting his head to the side as Sanzo licked and bit along his neck and shoulder, suckling at the cinnamon-flecked flesh and then biting when he wanted more. He didn't seem to realize his hips were grinding in time with his kisses against a well-muscled thigh.

            "Don't," he rasped between kisses, "call me baby."

            "Whatever you want," the kappa mumbled, one hand fisted in bright gold hair, the other stroking his arms and back, and whatever other surfaces he could clutch. Sanzo was suckling his skin with great force, enough to leave him speckled with love bites the next morning, the hanyou realized. It didn't matter to him; he wasn't the one who was uncomfortable with their arrangements.

            "Angh…" Sanzo let out an eager little groan, thrusting with short, jerky movements against Gojyo's thigh. He seemed aware of it now, but equally occupied with the other side of his lover's throat, still covered in a thin coating of cinnamon.

            "Glad you like it," the redhead grinned, pushing his thigh up between his lover's in time to his eager thrusts. He felt the slick, silk-covered steel dampening his leg with little trickles, and it was nearly enough to set him off. "Does this mean," he drawled, though it emerged as a breathless question, "every time you eat cinnamon from now on, you're gonna wanna grind your cock against me?"

            Sanzo growled at him and bit his neck much more roughly than was necessary to get his point across. Gojyo yelped in response, then let it fade off into a moan. He'd never been a fan of rough play, but with Sanzo he was willing to make compromises. Lots of them.

            "Guess not," he smirked, large hands sliding down, down the blonde's back and stroking his backside teasingly. He was in no rush to pry the fevered monk from his throat, where he was still nipping and teasing the skin, occupied and content with a tense leg between his own.

            When the pressure became too unbearable, Gojyo tugged his leg away, earning a snarl of discontent from his lover. He sat up and drew Sanzo into his lap, making a point of gazing down between them at the priest's swollen member, and then his own. "You like cinnamon huh?" He murmured huskily, beginning to stroke Sanzo gently. His lover moved his mouth to the delicate outer shell of his ear, curved and rounded neatly like a human's, rather than a demon's.

            "And would you lick it like that off of anything I put it on?" The sprite purred, clasping him tighter and rubbing his thumb over the damp head with expert movements. Sanzo's breath hitched and then released in a long moan. He somehow managed to sink his teeth into the kappa's ear shortly after, gasping.

            "Dream on, ero-kappa."

            "I probably will." He pushed Sanzo into the mattress and climbed over him; situating them both took no time at all. He tugged the other's legs up as gently as he could in his enthusiasm, resting his right ankle atop his own left shoulder. Contrary to his typical manner of existence, Gojyo had thought ahead that evening. Snatching the small, thumb-sized bottle of lubricant from the tabletop, he popped the lid and prepared Sanzo with the utmost care, trying to be gentle despite sounds of impatience.

            "I'm not made of porcelain, you baka," he seethed, jerking his hips upwards again with a hitch of his breath. Gojyo couldn't help but wonder at how Sanzo managed, in so vulnerable a position, to still look totally in control. Probably because he is.

            As Gojyo joined with him, he let out a sharp bellow of pleasure, throwing his head back so that his shaggy blonde mane spread out over the pillow. His hands dug into the sides of the mattress, tugging it up from the edges with dull, crescent-shaped nails and clenching like a vise about his lover.

            Gojyo paused in consideration, letting him adjust as he fought for breath. His heart hammered inside its cage, threatening to burst from his flesh with anticipation.

            "Get on with it," the priest growled, jerking his hips again as though he hadn't suffered even the smallest twinge of pain. Gojyo couldn't imagine how it must hurt—but he consoled himself with the image of Sanzo before him, amethyst eyes rolled back in his head as he gasped and writhed beneath the kappa in ecstasy. Gojyo leaned over him and pressed their mouths together in a passionate kiss, nothing rough or sly about it.

            "Wanna make love to you," he murmured, pressing a palm over the monk's left breast. He could feel a heart thudding there as crazily as his own.

            "So do it." Came the breathless reply.

            Gojyo did. He was as gentle as he could be, even though he knew Sanzo wouldn't admit to being in pain no matter what strokes he took. He took greater joy in watching the blonde's pleasure than in experiencing his own, though he wouldn't downplay it even in the privacy of his own mind. Sanzo was phenomenal, especially for never having had any practice at it. His endurance, too, was astounding. But it was his willingness to experiment in that that shocked Gojyo the most.

 

            Hakkai sighed as he turned the page in his book, humming softly to himself on occasion. Goku was asleep on the cot nearby, snoring, as promised, and drooling onto his pillow. Hakkai was glad that the monkey slept through almost anything, because he doubted he would get any rest that night. Now if only Goku knew how to drive…

            "Sanzo!"

            Hakkai rolled his eyes and cracked his knuckled inadvertently as his grasp on the edges of the hardcover tightened. Perhaps they weren't aware of how thin the walls were. Or didn't care, more likely. The healer adjusted his monocle and attempted to re-read the same sentence, and concentrate this time, but failed. They were so impossibly noisy.

            No one is that good, Hakkai reasoned. This was, by his count, the fourth time. He knew Gojyo's stamina well, if only from having lived with him before the beginning of their journey. He had listed off his escapades for Hakkai at the breakfast table, while nursing a hangover, countless times. But to hear him was quite different. And with Sanzo too.

            He wondered if it was an arrangement that would last—for instance, did it have any emotional foundation?—or was it just a passing fancy for both of them? Sanzo was most certainly not the type to allow such intimacy for a fling. Or at all. That was what confused him. What could the hanyou have possibly said to win Sanzo's bed?

            "Oi, Hakkai, what's that noise?"

            "Go back to bed, Goku," the healer sighed. "It's construction."

            "Oh. Right." Closing his bleary eyes, he conked out again, his head looking like a porcupine nestled in the pillow, because his face was buried amongst the fluff.

            I do hope Gojyo knows what he's gotten himself into. Sanzo must have stipulated something…I just wish I knew what.

            The idea of love itself never crossed Hakkai's mind.

 

Third Quarter

 

            "Mornin' babe." Gojyo grinned to his fair-haired lover, kissing his bruised lips tenderly and stroking his cheek with a thumb. Small, fine stubble had begun to grow.

            "Don't call me babe," Sanzo groaned, rolling onto his other side and doubling up against the sunlight. "It's too damn early."

            "It's eight," Gojyo announced, looking at his watch.

            "Fuck."

            "Too early," the redhead smirked, drawing Sanzo closer and kissing along the back of his neck. "Mnngh you smell good. Maybe it's not too early…"

            "Get off me," the monk growled in irritation, jerking his shoulders and forcing Gojyo off with a laugh from the kappa. He rose and, upon striding forward to snatch up his jeans, stumbled and landed on his knees with a short gasp.

            "Sanzo!" Gojyo was at his side in an instant, kneeling close and moving an arm about his waist. "You okay?"

            "I'm fine," the priest snapped, smacking the helping hands away. "Just fucking sore thanks to you."

            "Hey," holding up his hands in innocence, the redhead backed up, moving for his own clothing. "You're the one who wanted it a fourth time. And a fifth, in fact." He grinned devilishly.

            "You were on top," Sanzo argued, sliding his legs into denim in a delicate manner. "That's the easy part."

            "Yeah?" Gojyo tugged his shirt on. "Well I ain't complainin' about a sore throat."

            Sanzo reddened and, to the kappa's surprise, shut his mouth and dressed in silence. Gojyo hummed tunelessly and followed him downstairs to the remains of breakfast.

            "Hey guys!" Goku grinned, holding up a waffle. "Look what Mrs. Ukani made us! Waffles!"

            Hakkai smiled to them, noticing Sanzo's great care as he sat atop the wooden chair. "Are we due to set off soon, then?"

            Sanzo nodded.

            "So how far is the next town, Hakkai? Should I stock up now and prepare to hibernate?" Goku joked.

            "Oh, it's only a two day drive. Fortunately we've run into a chain of towns. After the next two, which are about a day apart each, we will travel past three, or maybe even four within a twelve-hour day."

            "Awesome! That means we can stop to eat every meal! No more cooking over a campfire!"

            "Is every thought you have centered on food?" Gojyo elbowed him over the last waffle, arguing that he hadn't had a chance at them, and Goku threw back that the early bird gets the worm.

            "Yeah, well the early monkey can go have the banana. I'm eating the waffle." To make his point, he snatched it up and licked it.

            "Oh yeah, like that matters," Goku tore off half of the crispy pastry and stuffed it into his mouth, sticking out his tongue.

            "That's disgusting you animal," Sanzo muttered, sipping at his coffee.

            "Speaking of animals…" Hakkai began, grinning to Sanzo, whose face darkened in a silent threat. "Has anyone seen Hakuryu?" The healer finished, sipping his tea with a smile.

 

            They camped under the stars the following evening, on the rocky, grainy soil of a small savannah. Small, natural springs nearby provided for them well through the night, although they were too small and too shallow to sustain even a small town or village.

            "And that one?" Goku pointed randomly, listening to Hakkai patiently explain the name and significance of the star, and whether or not it was part of a constellation.

            "And that big shiny one?"

            "That's Polaris, the North Star. It's part of the Big Dipper…"

            "Do we have any more booze?" Gojyo asked, looking through the remaining bags of supplies with a sigh. Hakuryu looked pleased to have lightened her load.

            "Aren't you troublesome enough without liquor in your system?" Sanzo said stiffly, ignoring the kappa as he scooted closer to the priest.

            "Guess so…"

            "What are you staring at, stupid sprite?"

            Gojyo grinned. "Your hair. When the firelight catches it…" He stopped, reading Sanzo's furious expression and then realizing that Hakkai's explanation had ceased, and he and Goku were staring at them.

            "…it makes me wonder how flammable it is." Gojyo finished bluntly, receiving a well-earned beating with the harisen. The monkey laughed.

            "Shut up you stupid ape!" Gojyo snarled, rubbing the back of his head. "Or you're next."

            "Next for what? I wouldn't ever suggest setting Sanzo's pretty hair on fire."

            "Pretty?" Hakkai and Gojyo both repeated stupidly, glancing to the priest in question and awaiting Goku's punishment.

            "Stupid ape." Sanzo muttered, rising and walking towards the tent.

            Goku smirked wickedly at the redhead, sticking his tongue out with a laugh. "I'm the favorite, you see," he explained with a smirk.

            "Sanzo doesn't play favorites. He hates everyone equally," Hakkai assured them both in a pleasant tone.

            "Nuh-uh," Goku insisted, shaking his head. "I'm obviously the favorite. Because I'm the least-annoying—except you Hakkai—and he must like me well enough, because he did save me."

            Gojyo smiled at the thought, reading the absolute adoration in the demon's eyes. "Right." He agreed, startling Goku with his ascension. "But so what? Like I care about being in the prick's favor anyway?"

            "Don't call Sanzo a prick!"

            "So stop biting my arm, you jackass!"

            "Please no bloodshed…it's really too late in the evening for me to be bandaging you up…" Hakkai began shuffling about the campsite and clearing it of pots and pans.

            "Well," Gojyo stretched, standing. "I'm off to bed, before the shitty monk gets into a funk."

            "Hey no," Goku protested, "I'm sleeping with Sanzo tonight."

            "What!" The redhead fairly snarled out of impulse, whipping about to look at Goku. The monkey blinked innocently back at him.

            "I'm sharing his tent tonight. He said that I could. Said you bothered him."

            "That's a load."

            "Why do you care anyways? It's not like a hotel; you can stay out and smoke as much as you want, and just crawl into the tent with Hakkai when you're done." Goku still clearly believed the only reason for the change in rooming-pattern was Hakkai's dislike of second-hand smoke. Gojyo consented, because he was too tired to come up with any argument or explanation. Besides, it wasn't as though Sanzo would be willing to fool around with him, the others being so close within hearing range.

            "Fine. Night, dumb monkey."

            "Shut up!" Goku called out, diving into Sanzo's tent and aggravating the sleep-deprived priest.

            When he and Hakkai settled into their tent, both half-undressed, snuggled under the covers, the healer turned to his roommate with a curious expression painted over his lips. "Gojyo?"

            "Hm?" Arms folded beneath his head, assuming Hakkai didn't mind the view of his naked chest and underarms, he turned his head.

            "May I ask you a very personal question?"

            "Sure why not?"

            "Are you and Sanzo…is this something temporary?" He asked softly.

            "What, you mean our…? I hope not." Gojyo smirked. "'Cause ya see, I already promised him I was his. It'd be a sad ending for Sha Gojyo if he gets bored of fucking after the mission's over."

            Hakkai smiled. "Is it that you love him?"

            Love? Geez, Hakkai, way to throw a curve ball at your friend. I can't answer this truthfully to him until I figure it out myself. And even then, Sanzo'll be the one to know first…

            "I really don't know yet. There's something there, and I think that crappy priest knows it, too. But I made the first move. It's his turn."

            Hakkai chuckled, propping his head up on his hand and leaning casually back into his pillow.

            "What's so damn funny?" Gojyo asked sleepily.

            "Only that it's so obvious to me that you both feel the same way, but are hesitant to act on it. It's in your nature…both of you have suffered great losses, and you don't open up to love easily."

            "Insightful." The kappa muttered sarcastically, looking into his friend's good eye and then tracing his fine profile in the dim lighting. Hakkai was really very handsome. Funny how he never noticed that before. He knew it, and he knew that women must find him attractive in some ways, but never recognized it. For a moment he found himself wondering what Kanan thought of when she met those piercing eyes. Did she feel the same sort of jolt with Hakkai that Gojyo felt with Sanzo? That same inexplicable connection that, to everyone else, simply didn't add up?

            "Time, time…" Hakkai murmured with an elusive smile, lying back in the covers. "You are fortunate to have so much of it with him, you know."

            "Yeah, I know," Gojyo said seriously, frowning at the sadness he saw flicker across his friend's face. "I don't know how I got that lucky."

            "Fate." Hakkai whispered. "Not luck."

            "I don't believe in fate," Gojyo whispered back, questioning the words even as they emerged.

            "Perhaps you should."

           

            Gojyo awoke to footsteps outside, and, finding Hakkai still asleep, stole out from the tent and into the chilly night air. It was warmer than their previous nights in the desert, but he could still see his breath form a frosty cloud before his face, as though he had a Hi-Lite pressed between his lips.

            Upon emerging, his eyes adjusted to the bright light of the moon--half-full and growing smaller--and its dazzling cohorts. The sound of footsteps had vanished, and he couldn't see or sense anyone. Nothing moved, save for the occasional shrub near the spring, mere yards away.

            It was a beautiful night, despite the temperature, and Gojyo didn't feel sleepy at all. He strode across the gravelly sand towards the beginning of a carpet of grass and little flowers, all closed up under the dark blanket overhead.

            The spring was a mirror of the night sky; Gojyo scanned its shiny, immobile surface, identifying the reflected images, and startling when he saw a closed-eyed priest, robes pooling in his lap and around his wrists. He glanced at the large, flat rock opposite a small thicket of reeds and identified Sanzo sitting in the lotus position, deep in meditation. The kappa stepped backwards in retreat after a quick glimpse, not wanting to interrupt his lover. He had so little time to himself anymore.

            He couldn't help but greedily drink Sanzo in while he could. His departure became increasingly slower; backwards steps guided him clumsily towards their encampment as his eyes flitted madly over his lover's glowing form, watching the moonlight caress his face and reflect off of his mane. Darkness hid in the tiny crevasses and crinkles of his robe.

             Gojyo's own arms, he saw with delight, were glowing too. No shadows leaped over him in the light's attempt to dodge his flesh. For a moment he was relaxed. And then suddenly a pair of amethyst eyes was staring right at him. Gojyo realized he had stepped backwards right onto a twig, and broken the monk's concentration. He frowned.

            "Sorry Sanzo," the redhead murmured, approaching him rather shyly. "I didn't know you were out here meditating. I didn't mean to interrupt, honest."

            Waiting for, at the very least, a "stupid kappa" remark, he was surprised when the fair-haired man unfolded his legs and gave him an almost-smile. "It's fine. Come here." He must have been in a rare state of harmony after having meditated.

            Gojyo sat. Sanzo was very close to him, and didn't seem to mind it. They did have some privacy after all. Little trees and shrubs had popped up around the spring over time, and sheltered it adequately.

            Sanzo didn't seem to want to talk, and Gojyo didn't mind. They sat in companionable silence, staring at the heavens and, when their necks grew tired, its reflection in the spring. It was the redhead who broke their silence.

            "You know…Hakkai made me realize something tonight."

            "He has that effect on people."

            "He told me I'm lucky to have so much time with the people I love."

            Sanzo did not make a reply. Gojyo saw his face soften.

            "It's hard to imagine what he's going through, not having the one he loves right there anymore. Made me realize how valuable time is, all the more so because I don't know when it's going to run out for me. For us. He said it's fate…"

            Sanzo turned to him now, violet eyes serious. "It's not." Came a flat reply. "And it's not luck either. It's what we do."

            "What we do…" Gojyo agreed, gently scooping up Sanzo's hand in his, and kissing the bared knuckles beneath his glove. "And I choose to love you, and do whatever I can to preserve that." He made his admission in passing, to alleviate them both of a potentially uncomfortable moment.

            Sanzo made a sound of agreement –or maybe discomfort?--, but only squeezed the kappa's hand back in place of reply.

            What we do…

Gojyo shivered and began running his palms up his arms.

            "Stupid kappa," the priest muttered. "No coat, no cloak." He ran slender fingers up the sprite's arm, leaning closer as he did so. "You're cold."

            "Justa little…" Sanzo's hands directed Gojyo's face, turning the kappa to face him.

            "Your teeth are chattering." The priest sad flatly.

            "Maybe I'm colder than I thought."

            Tilting his head at the perfect angle, Sanzo leaned forward and captured Gojyo's lips with precision beyond his experience. Gojyo moaned softly and leaned forward into the embrace, arms sliding about the monk's warm body as quickly as he felt them envelope his own.

            "Sanzo…" To hear that name spoken in the open, and feel his strong body pressing close was enough. Gojyo pushed closer, tilting his own head and deepening the intensity of their kiss, letting a hand stray within Sanzo's robes and stroking his naked shoulder. The cream colored fabric slid off with a whispered rustle. The ivory, statuesque flesh was brushed by soft kisses. Impatiently, the fairer drew their mouths together again.

            "Gojyo…" He breathed, one slender hand moving to trace the two small scars on the hanyou's left cheek, then cup his jaw and pull him near. Gojyo had never heard Sanzo, in complete control of himself, murmur his name that way before. It had always been pronounced as part of a command before they made love, or a senseless cry during. He'd never whispered the kappa's name solely to hear himself say it. It made the hanyou's heart swell. A small sound of pleasure escaped him.

            A strong, long-fingered hand rested at the base of Sanzo's spine, in the midst of lowering him slowly to the grass-covered ground away from the rock. The other cupped the back of his head, tangling in woven gold.

            It was in this vulnerable position, arms locked in embrace, lips crushed together in a fiery kiss, that shocked golden eyes observed them both.

            "Sanzo?" Goku gasped, frozen behind the reeds. "Gojyo you pervert what're you doing to him!" His voice was strained with a mixture of disgust and sheer panic. He knew the same Sanzo that Gojyo once had. The Sanzo incapable of tenderness. So of course, to see him demonstrating such behavior, one could only think it was forced upon him. And by whom else than the dirty kappa?

            "Hakkai!" Goku bellowed, his nyoi-bo materializing in his hand. "Hakkai!"

            Hakkai, wearing only his undershirt and boxers, came running out with his monocle in hand. "Goku!?"

            "Piss off," Gojyo growled and shoved himself up and off of his lover in the disruption.

            "Ah…oh." Hakkai smiled to them pleasantly. "Goku you should leave them alone."

            "But Hakkai, Gojyo was--"

            "We need to have a little chat…"

            "But Hakkai…" Goku was led, stunned and surprised, back to his tent. Gojyo laughed at the monk's face, blushing so darkly it was visible even in the night light. They heard Goku pipe up in understanding, "So Gojyo's the favorite?"

            "Well I guess we don't have to bother to keep it a secret anymore," the kappa said perkily, hands moving to massage Sanzo's shoulders. "Do you wanna continue where we left off, baby?"

             The priest jerked away. "No. And don't call me baby."

 

            Gojyo and Sanzo officially shared a tent. The kappa smiled happily, arms wrapped lovingly about the priest's waist, his cheek resting in silky hair as Sanzo slept. The redhead was still wide awake, tracing the lengths of crimson running through the shorter, lighter mane that shared the pillow. He could hear Hakkai and Goku's conversation—Goku's half of it more clearly—in between gusts of whistling wind.

            "So…they're in love?" Goku asked incredulously.

            "I can't say that I know that for sure. But they care about each other very much."

            "So they're not in love, but they care about each other." Goku must have been frowning; Gojyo tried to see the world through the monkey's eyes. He was five hundred years old, but had the life experience of a ten year old. Because he had been locked away without contact for the majority of his life, he knew little about human, or demon behavior. And Sanzo being his savior, he was especially protective of the monk. "Well, I'm not in love with you, Hakkai, but I care about you. But we don't kiss." The wrinkling of a nose was audible in the statement.

            "I know, Goku," Hakkai said calmly. The poor guy wasn't getting any sleep. "But this situation is a bit different. Maybe I will explain it to you when you're older."

            "I'm older than you—stop treating me like a baby! That's what the kappa does! Just give it to me straight, Hakkai."

            "Perhaps I should have said 'I'll tell you when you have spent more years amongst others,' then." Hakkai chuckled, but continued with his explanation anyway. Gojyo wondered if he was turning red in frustration. Speaking to Goku was like speaking to a rock sometimes. The only thing he wholly understood was instinct, and basic need. More specifically: food.

            "We can't know for sure if Sanzo and Gojyo love each other, or how they feel, and should probably refrain from asking."

            Do as I say, not as I do, Hakkai?

            "It's an intimate topic for them. You know how Sanzo feels about publicizing personal information." Goku must have nodded. "Well, Sanzo and Gojyo are lovers now, and because of that we'll probably be bunking together from now on."

            "…So they kiss a lot and stuff?"

            "Precisely."

            "That's sort of gross…" Goku began. "I mean, Sanzo letting that dirty ero-kappa put his mouth all over him…"

            "Goku shut up!" Gojyo bellowed from his tent, earning a rough smack—more like a punch, really,--from an angry priest.

            "Go to sleep you idiot!"

            "Nyah, stop eavesdropping you stupid kappa!" Goku retaliated from his tent.

            "Sorry to have woken you," Hakkai called out cheerily. "It's almost time to get up anyways, and I'm not going to get back to sleep. Should we start our day early, and perhaps reach the town well-rested and by dinner time?"

            "Yes!" Goku howled his agreement, and Gojyo looked to the monk.

            "Well?"

            "Ungh. Fine. I'm almost out of Marlboros, anyway." He heaved himself up and seconded the motion, helping Gojyo pack up their sleeping bags.

            "We're gonna be traveling in the dark—how awesome is this? Hey—this calls for a midnight snack," Goku insisted, digging through their bags and nudging Hakuryu awake. The little dragon kyuued tiredly, but was tempted off of Hakkai's shoulder by a morsel of cookie that Goku graciously spared.

            "Hakuryu transform!" Goku cried out, tossing her up into the air and sighing when she floated back down onto Hakkai's shoulder, poking at the side of his head with her face.

            "Oh Hakuryu won't you give us an early start?" Hakkai asked as he helped Sanzo roll up the rest of the pallets, leaving the tent-folding to Gojyo and Goku.

            "Kyuu." Came the reply. Quickly the small white dragon flew over to a flat plot of land and turned herself into their hunter green jeep just in time to be loaded down with camping supplies.

            Hakkai slid into the driver's seat. "Everyone ready to go?"

 

            Their journey started out well; Hakkai put aside his exhaustion, and Sanzo, Gojyo, and eventually Goku slept, leaving the youkai in peace with his thoughts. He hummed softly as Hakuryu drove on, peering at the map on Sanzo's lap every so often to double-check their route. They were making excellent time, and perhaps would have arrived at the next town before four, had they not been ambushed.

            The searing heat that scorched the sand and rocks beneath them waved ahead, creating various mirages. Goku swore he saw a small spring twice before comprehending the concept of an illusion. Sanzo's irritability soared, and Gojyo's annoyance at the heat and lack of water rose in accordance. Hakkai, the only one truly entitled to grumpiness, was cheerful as ever.

            "You know I hope our inn has air-conditioning," the healer jested, earning a growl from Sanzo.

            "It had better."

            "It better have running water. Cold running water," the kappa groaned. "I'm frying under the sun."

            "At least you won't lose your tan?" Hakkai offered.

            "True, true…the ladies'll love that. If I don't shrivel up from this damned weather."

            "The ladies?" Goku queried. "Don't you dare cheat on Sanzo!"

            "Bakasaru, I was only kidding," Gojyo muttered, blowing a puff of smoke into his face. "Stop fussin' like a nanny."

            "I'm not fussing! I just don't think you're being very fair to Sanzo. He never flirts with anyone else—and you do all the time!"

            "Yeah well he's a monk. He's got better restraint," Gojyo said offhandedly, growing bored with Goku's yammering.

            "I think you should apologize. With flowers," Goku smirked, looking for trouble. "What kinda flowers do you like Sanzo?"

            "Shut up, monkey," the blond growled.

            "I second the motion."

            "Now, now, be nice," Hakkai murmured, coming out of his thoughts when he sensed tension, and then retreating shortly after reprimanding them.

            "I am being nice," Goku muttered, pushing his foot against Gojyo's thigh. "Your leg's on my side of the seat."

            "Yeah well your food's on my side. Scoot."

            "Well I know a secret."

            "Good for you. Keep it that way." He turned his face into the hot wind, eyes closed to prevent scorching sand from getting caught on his eyes. He was beginning to miss the cool of the night.

            "Let's play truth or dare," Goku suggested.

            "No."

            "Sanzo?"

            "No."

            "Please?"

            "Shut up!"

            "It'd keep our minds off of the heat," Goku promised, pushing at Gojyo's leg again. "How about you? Won't you?"

            "I already said no, stupid monkey!"

            "Why, you chicken?"

            "No, I kappa, and you monkey. Kappa tired, monkey noisy and soon to die." Gojyo rested his arm on the side of the jeep's door and jerked it back. It felt as though he had touched a stove. The heat was really getting to him.

            "Do you see something up ahead, Sanzo-san?" Hakkai asked quietly, coming out of his reverie. Gojyo assumed he was counting mirages and their shapes like clouds.

            "Gojyo loves Sanzo!" Goku blurted, unable to contain his "secret" any longer. He snickered at the kappa's fury and dodging a punch. "Sittin' in a tree…"

            "Shut up you stupid…" For some reason Sanzo hadn't even responded, and now Gojyo understood why. The kappa peered ahead at the five shadows on the horizon.

            Shit. Definitely not a mirage.

            "Looks as though we're in for a fight…" Hakkai announced solemnly, fingers tapping at the wheel. "More of Kougaiji's men perhaps."

            "I dunno." Gojyo murmured, tossing his cigarette out the side of the jeep. "Usually he sends one of his own after us, not these minions. He knows we're capable of hacking them up easily."

            "These aren't minions," Goku insisted, his nose twitching. "They have a strong smell, and a stronger aura. I don't think they're from Kougaiji at all. He plays fair. These guys…aren't gonna."

            "Sweet action." Gojyo grinned, snatching his shakujo from thin air as Goku's nyoi-bo appeared in his right hand. "How many?" As they grew closer, Hakuryu's chirping grew louder. The kappa peered into the distance. "One, two…"

            "Five." Sanzo said.

            "How can you see so far? I thought you wore glasses." Grinning, Gojyo leaned over the passenger seat to get a better look. "Far-sighted?"

            "I'm afraid we'll have to walk from here, gentleman," Hakkai said as he stood up, landing neatly on his feet in the sand. Hakuryu squealed and landed atop his shoulder. "She's getting nervous."

            "Thanks for the warning," Goku growled, dusting the rocky soil from his behind as he stood up and stretched, recovering the nyoi-bo from the sand. "Well, here we go!"

            Sensing the rise of the Sanzo Ikkou, the advancing youkai sped up, and were soon within view, descending on their targets with extended claws and elongated fangs dripping saliva. Gojyo cringed, and glanced out of instinct to their leader, who was already loading his banishing gun.

            "Split up, or stay together?"

            "I suggest we split up, and limit their advantage over us." Hakkai proposed. "I can take two."

            "No way!" Goku protested, already darting off towards the East. "I'll take the big'uns. And I'm going East, by the way!"

            "West!" Gojyo called, vanishing in a flash of red.

            "A preference, Sanzo?" Hakkai smiled, stepping backwards, northwards.

            The priest shook his head and took off south, in the opposite direction of their advance. He knew exactly why the others had been so quick to choose their directions; the youkai were after him, after all. He had the sutra.

            Protect me, he scoffed, cocking his Smith & Wesson and flattening the sutra on his shoulders. If they could hold the youkai off long enough for him to finish the spell, they'd be dust within seconds. The priest began chanting.

           

            It happened in a millisecond; faster than even he liked. Leaping onto the youkai's shoulder, he purposely dug his heel into the sensitive spot between neck and collarbone. His nyoi-bo snapped the back of the creature's skull with a resounding thwack. It reminded him of the noise Sanzo's harisen made when it nested in his frizzy hair.

            "You're goin' down," Goku snickered, surprised at the beast's lumbering gait. He was impossibly slow, and hardly a challenge. Glancing about, the monkey found that two others had already encountered Hakkai, and were being distracted by a small, fire-puffing dragon and the dark-haired demon's beams of youki.

            "Hey I want another!" Goku protested. "Trade you, Gojyo?"

            The return holler was a snide one, and Goku was pleased to find another youkai, equal to his stature, charging forward. "Finally. You guys sure are slow today. Izzit the heat?" The responses were snarls and growls as a fist caught him in the side, unprepared. Seething at being nicked up so early in the battle, Goku began to take things seriously.

 

            "I'm afraid I can't let you go any further," Hakkai said with a smile, projecting a wall of flickering silver youki before him. It stopped the demon, human-like in appearance, in her tracks. "I'm not one to be rude to a lady," he explained, "but I have to protect my friends."

            She hissed at him, snarling threats and curses to no effect. Hakkai only smiled, letting her claw at his large energy shield, and watching it shock her hands and arms as they attempted to break through. "Really you have no reason to be attacking us…we're only trying to help other youkai."

            "Traitors!" She screeched, her bright red hair standing on end with the powerful charge of Hakkai's defense. "You're a youkai," she hissed, stepping back and fighting for breath. "Yet you wear those limiters—limiters humans created to keep us down. To weaken and annihilate us. Why do you travel with a human—a priest, no less, when you could join us? You've tasted the power of the youkai before, Hakkai."

            He was surprised by the background information she had on him. "How is it you know so much?" He queried, tone still light, mouth curved pleasantly upwards. "Do you work for Kougaiji?"

            "Don't insult me. I work for no one."

            "Then why do you feel the need to destroy my friends?" Only Hakkai could carry on conversation in the midst of battle.

            "They stand in the way of the Revolution. Humans have ruled for too long; it's our turn. Will you be a traitor, and take sides with them? Remove your limiters…don't forget what humans did to you. Betrayal leaves a nasty taste in the mouth…"

            Hakkai shook his head. "I'm sorry, but your vague allusions aren't hitting home. I'm afraid I just can't agree."

            "The good humans are dead!" She shrieked, throwing herself at the wall so that Hakkai had to brace himself against the crumbling soil to hold her back. He felt perspiration gliding down his spine, dampening his long-sleeved shirt.

            "You know they are! Gonou is." She grinned wickedly. "Kanan is. And it was humans who betrayed her."

            Hakkai faltered. And that was all it took. She breached his defense and crashed over him, long claws slicing cleanly through the thin green material covering his torso. His monocle fell, and she cackled at the pain written so clearly in his eyes.

            "Up close it's easy to see: your attachment to that wretched girl."

            "How do you know of her?" He rasped, hands gripping her wrists and holding the claws back from his face. He felt the scalding sand grinding against his bare back and neck, and fought to regain his youki.

            She ignored his question, and leered at the three gleaming silver clasps on his left ear. "Take them off! You'll never defeat me unless you remove them."

            "I won't." He spoke evenly, the smile faded from his mouth. Reiki was building between them, and it was all his.

            "Is it that you wear them for her sa--"

            Her words were cut off cleanly, as though Hakkai had pressed the mute button on a television. The body above him exploded with a burst of light dulled by the fire of the setting sun. He felt, as though from a distance, the thick, warm splattering of blood and gore over the surface of his skin.

            The sudden release of so much energy made his head spin from the effort. He felt drained, exhausted. His body wouldn't obey him for what seemed an eternity. Five minutes of silence fell on his ears as he struggled to regenerate sufficient ki to stand and make his way to the others. Gradually, strength began to build again in his trembling limbs. He forced his eyelids open and grimaced, finding her disembodied arms clutched ruthlessly in his hands. He dropped them quickly and rolled into a sitting position. Claw marks zigzagged over his chest in uneven lines of red. Not too deep. They would fester though, if left untreated for too long. He stood up, but too hastily, and toppled back over into the dampening sand below. His head was whirling, and he felt whatever rested in his stomach threatening to rise up again. Another brief moment. Then I'll be well enough to walk. He wasn't sure how much time he had.

 

            Gojyo grunted in pain as a blade scraped across the inside of his knee, sending a spray of blood up as it hit a major vein.

            "Son of a bitch!" He hissed, flinging the crescent blade of his shaku-jo in an outwards arc against his enemy. Goku had two of them, Hakkai had killed one, and he had another. He couldn't see Sanzo. The priest must have backtracked over the dune in the distance to finish his chanting. Gojyo planned on advancing in aid the moment he finished with his current project.

            "Who sent you?" The kappa demanded, meeting the creature's blow with the staff of his weapon and thrusting him back. He had been taking a lot of defensive positions during this fight, and he didn't like it one bit. Sha Gojyo never played defense. That was for the bad guys.

            "You gonna answer?" He hated the breathless quality of his voice; it made him sound weak. The demon must have thought much the same thing, because he was grinning like a madman. And the long teeth, Gojyo thought, made it all the more terrifying. He had been dodging that mouth like a rattrap, fearing the power of such strong jaws and sharp, dripping fangs. They would cut through him like a row of knives might, and all the way too, given their length.

            This guy's gonna skewer me if I can't dice him up first!

            It seemed impossible. Even though he met the creature blow for blow, sometimes two for one on his part, the sharpened blade of his staff wasn't cutting deep enough. The demon's skin was thick, and he had restorative powers akin to Hakkai's. Speaking of whom, Gojyo was thinking he wouldn't mind the healer's defensive shield right about then.

            "Fuck!" He hissed, receiving a sharp blow to his shoulder and barely clambering up from the shrubs in time. Thorns tugged at his hair and tore threads from his scalp with a pinch. For some reason that sensation was more defined than the agony behind his left knee that was causing his entire leg to slowly become numb.

            Now I've got a time limit too…

            Distanced fighting was his only option, and his opponent wasn't making it easy. He clambered after Gojyo on all fours, then leapt up onto his back feet when he wanted to strike with jagged claws. The kappa swung his blade outwards in a silver arc, watching it catch the sunlight and fling it into the eyes of the demon. It was pure luck, but he would take it.

            Blinded for only a moment, but a moment was enough, the creature's neck was exposed. Gojyo leapt, the chain of his blade in hand, and pushed the centre of the sharp crescent at the head against a thick throat, thrusting forward with a kick of his foot. He was totally vulnerable, and far too close to the monster's vice-like jaw. But hell. He was a gambling man.

 

            The spell fell from his lips like water, unceasing, as if it were one long word. He felt the sutra unroll like a scroll and extend itself, whipping out towards the demon who was charging at him a little too quickly. Sanzo sped up, knowing the chants so well he could utter them in his sleep (if it wouldn't put Gojyo in danger), and directed their power at his enemy. The demon was entombed with ease and his bones were blasted to dust within seconds, showering Sanzo in debris. He shook it off, running a hand through his hair, and decided it could have been worse. It could have been wet.

            His gun still hidden within his robes, he approached the dune that separated him from the others, and began his chant again with the intention of destroying whomever they hadn't. Cresting the top, the priest was shocked to find himself pitching forward, the air knocked from his lungs as his back was pierced. They felt like daggers, or maybe swords, that were running through his body. At first it was a sensation wholly without feeling. Had he not felt panic, he might well have analyzed it, and known the skewers to be claws. He had time enough to roll out of the way of a second blow and remove his gun, a gasp on his lips. Then the pain came.

            He bellowed, sand entering the open wounds that seemed to run clearly through his body. Were those searing claws still embedded there, setting his insides afire? The gun went off, aimed by a shaky hand at the creature's head. At such close range, he couldn't miss. That, and the scarlet spray coating his face and cloak told him the demon was dead. How then, did this dark-skinned, sun-torched creature manage to leap over him and pinion his body against the earth?

            He howled in agony; the wrist tensed with his gun snapped back cruelly, and he struggled against his adversary, weaponless, and unable to use his sutra. Writhing and rolling off to the side with a hollow gasp, Sanzo landed on the decimated body of his original adversary. What were those fuckers doing if he had ended up with two of the five demons?

            That thought passed his conscience as he gripped the pistol unsteadily, firing and only nicking his target's torso. He scrambled in the sand, feeling the land give way beneath him; it was like charging through the shallows of a river. He let gravity pull him down the burned side of the dune, rolling with his gun tucked close to his chest, hand off the trigger. The moment he hit the base, the demon was atop him, having leapt the distance. Sanzo swore and slammed the muzzle of his Smith & Wesson up against a sturdy chest, firing, and feeling the butt of the small weapon beat against his ribcage. Something snapped, but it didn't register until the charred remains of his attacker floated down over him. He hacked and spat, sitting up and reeling in pain. His chest was on fire; he felt as though he had been skewered on a series of sharp prongs and held over the flames. Salt-like sand dug at his injuries. He bit back a whimper and blinked to clear his vision.

            "Genjyo Sanzo!" Came a hissing cry. A third!? Had he not been preoccupied with the sudden blow to his stomach, he might have felt a tinge of fear for the others. Were two youkai occupying the three of them?

            "Back up!" He growled, though it was garbled by a bubble of blood that popped around his lips. He thrust the banishing gun forward, two bullets remaining, and held it with a vibrating arm. "Do you know what this is?" He asked breathlessly. The youkai grinned, and Sanzo might have known something was wrong if he hadn't been so dazed by his agony.

            "A banishing gun," the demon said calmly. Sanzo frowned, wondering why he wasn't quaking in fear of his own mortality. Then he understood.

            Darkness flickered before his eyes, flashing in a mixture of red as his head fell back with a deafening roar. A rusty bear trap of a mouth had locked onto his left shoulder, and in an instant, his entire arm was paralyzed by the pain as a steady vibration shot through his bones. His second scream rang in his ears, but to his attackers was merely a puff of air as he collapsed, threads of blood trailing behind in the air. He heard, but did not register, the sound of others. Moving his fingers made them feel as though they were breaking. He strained for his gun with his left hand, cheek grinding into the hot sand in a mixture of blood and spit. He felt a long-clawed foot slam into his back, and another into his arm, and suddenly he was fighting in the dark.

 

            "Shit," Gojyo breathed, staggering upwards and wringing his long mane of blood. It had come out of the bastard's throat like a geyser, blinding, choking him in ferric crimson. He hadn't dared fall back; he knew he wouldn't last another round on his legs. He could barely feel his left as it was. The blood on his body was the creature's, but the blood on the ground was his own.

            "'Kai," he called weakly, his vision blurring for a moment, as though he were drunk, and then settling. "Gotta find Sanzo…" He muttered, an angry gnawing beginning in his bowels. They caught him in a painful cramp, probably from one of his adversary's blows, and he stumbled. The dune looked suddenly much farther than it had before. And panic began eating at him. Why couldn't he see the others? Why was there no bright blaze from over the sandy hill, and a confidant Sanzo on top, his sutra glowing atop his shoulders?

            Gojyo limped pathetically, dragging his hurt leg behind him at what he might have, at any other time, believed to be an impossible pace for a wounded man. Even a hanyou.

            He left streaks of dark sand in his wake, dampening it with a bloody trail as he hauled himself up the side of the dune; it was too wide to go around. He thought then that he might not make it; his vision was flickering in and out, and his limbs were filled with jelly, unable to sustain him. Gritting his teeth, his body shuddered, and a little moan escaped.

            Whatever gods there be, let him be alive…

            He was only more panicked at his resort to prayer. Sha Gojyo never prayed to anyone. It was the gods who had put them into this mess. How dare they abandon them now…

            "S'zo…" he muttered, eyesight fading. It was a miracle that he made it to the top, but when he did, he almost wished he had passed out on the way. The sight below stole his breath as though a hand had reached down his throat and grasped roughly at his heart, tearing it loose. He swore, and then his blood stopped pumping.

            "Sanzo!" The cry was weak in sound but strong in tone; it caused the three demons fighting the nearly unconscious monk to look up at him. They sensed his youki, and one went after him; the other two returned to their quarry.

            "'Kai…" Gojyo whimpered, grasping his heavy shaku-jo. "Hakkai!" His right leg carried him down the hill, and gravity's aid to anger gave his attack his strength. The creature was impaled swiftly by the horns of his crescent blade; he toppled over him and landed awkwardly on his other leg, feeling a searing agony shoot up to the bone of his pelvis. Adrenaline kept him going, though it felt as though he were watching and controlling himself from above.

            "Fuckers!" He screamed, "Come and fight me!" He felt a slick mixture of blood and saliva trickle down his chin at the force of his words. He took them both on, but was unable to catch a glimpse of the fallen priest as he was propelled backwards by the power of a blow. Skidding atop the sand, he jerked himself up on wobbling legs, using his shaku-jo as a crutch. It was with the greatest relief of his life that he saw Goku come charging down the hill, bloodied and with weapon in hand. The scream coming from him was so loud that its echo became a steady drone in Gojyo's ears as he collapsed and crawled towards his lover.

            "Sanzo…" It hardly sounded like his name when it emerged. Gojyo pulled the priest, who was coughing and gurgling in a mouthful of blood, up and flattened a hand on his back, letting him lean forward. He expelled a torrent of dark, runny blood in a haggard scream. It was then that the kappa felt the hot wetness on his hand. He threw his head back in a mournful cry; once-dry blood again slicked his face as tears poured from his eyes.

            "Sanzo no…"

            He lay in Gojyo's arms, looking small inside the crumpled crimson tunic. Only the sutra, protected by holy powers, remained unstained. Sanzo's left arm hung limp, the shoulder bared to the bone. Gojyo was careful not to touch it, though he didn't think the monk could feel anything right then.

            He saw his gun, gleaming in the dying sunlight, a world away, where it had been flung from his hands. The two youkai festering under the open sky nearby had a broken skull and shattered ribcage.

            He tried to defend himself.

            The thought made him appear even more vulnerable. "Sanzo…" Cradling the familiar body in his arms, he pressed his cheek to the cold forehead, fingertips stroking the priest's jaw and leaving dirty crimson streaks in its wake. "Sanzo oh Gods…c'mon man, snap outta it. Don't ya gotta tell me how bad I fucked up this time? You know you wanna hit me with the fan…"

            The crashing clamor of the battle in the background only heightened his panic. Sanzo was fading fast; those violet eyes were dull, glazed with pain, and Gojyo wondered if the priest could even hear him.

            "Sanzo I'm sorry." He whispered. "But please don't…don't do this. Don't…leave." His voice broke, and he kissed the icy forehead, breath hitching in his chest. Sanzo's wounds continued to run, and Gojyo pressed his hands over them in vain, trying to staunch the flow with a mixture of their ragged garments. Sanzo only moaned in pain when he was shifted, and the light in his eyes flickered. Gojyo was afraid that he didn't even recognize his face.

            "Hakkai's comin', man…just hang on. This isn't so bad, really," he promised, stroking the blood-clotted hair back. "You've had worse, you have…Hakkai's gonna fix you up okay? You're gonna be fine…just hang on…okay? Promise?" Gojyo demanded, resisting the urge to shake him. Sanzo's head fell back and he groaned deeply, letting blood drip from his lips onto Gojyo's naked chest.

            "G'jyo…"

            "Sanzo?" His stomach tightened. He felt his heart stop again, and the blood in his body ran cold. It was as if an icy dagger slid underneath his veins. Sanzo never called him by his name.

            And for a moment those amethyst eyes were perfectly clear, looking up at him from below grain-colored lashes. Bloodied lips parted in a trembling breath, and Sanzo whispered his name again, barely audible over the wind.

            "G'jyo…"

            "Sanzo don't leave me," he said quickly, grasp on the priest's good arm tightening in fear. "Hakkai's coming dammit." Gojyo didn't even think about whether the healer was or not, or whether he was even alive. He just had to persuade Sanzo to linger. But he was like ivory, drained of blood; even his veins were hard to detect, empty as they were. His chest barely rose with each breath. Gojyo didn't have enough hands to cover the jagged wounds on his body, the claw marks and bites.

            "I love you."

            Gojyo started, body rearing up as madness itself seemed to sprout from the ground, thorny tendrils tugging at his skin. Sanzo didn't say such things.

            "Shut up," he whispered, shaking his head. "Since when do you get off talking shit?"

            Sanzo gave him an almost-smile and remained quiet in his arms, breathing softly, his eyes open. "Don't you dare leave me," the kappa threatened, almost snarling between hitching sobs. "Don't you dare, you shitty priest! Don't you leave me!"

            But Sanzo never had listened to him.

 

            The whirling, icy winds were what woke him. He hadn't been dreaming, but all the same images and sounds still ricocheted off the walls of his mind. Mostly red.

            "Sanzo…" The violet eyes were closed, and his body was motionless beside Gojyo's. The sand beneath him was soggy and growing colder for being wet. It looked like a shadow. Gojyo whimpered softly and pulled himself closer to the priest's stained and tattered robes, clutching his icy, unmoving hand with a little sigh. His eyes fell shut, and within moments there was a pleasant warmth surrounding him. He thought he heard Hakkai's voice.

 

            He awoke again, warm, in pain, and with a terribly dry mouth. When he spoke, no words came out, only a distortion of the air in his throat. He could see a whitewashed plaster ceiling and paneled walls. He was in a bed. Or atop sheets. Something sturdy rested beneath him. He heard footsteps, and strained his eyes in their direction, though he could not rise.

            "Hakkai he's up!" Goku's voice. Gojyo never thought he would be so happy to hear that voice. The monkey kindly tilted his head up, and brought a cold glass of water to his mouth. He drank quickly, but too much, and spat most of it back up. But he could speak now.

            "I'm coming," Hakkai sounded, stepping lightly into the room and giving Gojyo a small smile. "Good evening."

            "Evenin'?"

            "Yes indeed. You've been asleep for quite a while. You needed it; you lost quite a bit of blood you know. And your leg was in bad shape. It's a good thing Goku brought me to you when he did."

            "How bad is it?"

            "Not too terrible really," Hakkai assured him, sitting on the edge of the bed. "You'll be up and about in a week or two. Not so bad, is it?"

            Gojyo lifted the sheets and looked down at his body, analyzing the fresh wounds and bandages. He tried to move his leg, and was relieved to feel it twinge in pain. He was okay. He was going to walk again. And here was Goku, lightly bandaged around his arm and stomach, but sipping at a soda nonetheless. And Hakkai, sitting upright beside him despite a thin gauze over his torso. A sensation of relief and even a trace of joy began to trickle through his veins, easing the tense muscles.

            And then he remembered.

            "Gojyo…?" Goku asked softly, seeing his face crumple and his eyes dampen. He turned his head away with a shaking gasp.

            "Sanzo."

            Hakkai's smile faded, and he gave Gojyo's shoulder a squeeze. "I know. He lost too much blood. But he's been stable, at least, these past three nights. He hasn't woken up yet, though…"

            "What?" Gojyo jerked his head back, forcing himself into a sitting position, much to Hakkai's obvious displeasure. The healer tried to ease him back onto the bed, but failed. "Sanzo." Gojyo repeated stupidly, grasping a fistful of Hakkai's sleeve. "Where is he?"

            "The room next door. We've been monitoring him very carefully. He's seriously wounded."

            "He's alive…?"

            "Yes," Now Hakkai smiled again, glad to be bringing good news. "He's alive, and his wounds are beginning to heal. It's a miracle at all that Hakuryu and Goku managed to do what they did."

            "Sanzo's alive." Gojyo repeated, as if to reassure himself. Hakkai nodded again and began prattling. The kappa felt exhaustion grasping at him and pulling him down, down, into a soft bed. The image of the bloodied, lifeless body staring up at him with dead eyes vanished from his memory. 

 

            When he awoke again, he was told it had been another two days, and he had better eat something.

            "Tell me what happened," the kappa demanded, forcing himself to sit up again. Goku was at his side, holding a plate of mashed potatoes and corn.

            "Eat first, then I'll tell you."

            "You mean that isn't yours?"

            "Don't be an idiot," Goku rolled his eyes. "This is sick-person food. I already had pork roast and with beans and fried rice and ice cream for dessert," he informed his patient. "But you need to eat something."

            "What I need," Gojyo grumbled, taking the plate and fork from his nurse, "is a cigarette."

            "Fat chance. Hakkai tossed them. He was afraid you'd be after that."

            "Tossed them!? Those are expensive!"

            "Hey don't yell at me, stupid kappa!" Goku retaliated, clearly pleased to see his friend well enough to complain. That was always a good sign. "He tossed the booze too."

            "It's a sign of the apocalypse," Gojyo griped, picking at the dinner Goku brought him and shoving a forkful into his mouth. "Th'where. Swee?" He said with a grin, swallowing. "Now tell me."

            "Okay, but keep eating."

            "I will," the redhead promised.

            "I left after I killed those two demons that were attacking you an' Sanzo, and I ran after Hakkai. I found him knocked out, but Hakuryu was sittin' on top of him, so I just snatched her up and told her she had to transform. She never listens to me, but she seemed really panicked because Hakkai was hurt. So I got him into the jeep, and then drove her around to you and Sanzo, and got you both into the jeep too. Then Hakuryu drove us here, to the nearest town. I've never seen her go so fast. I hardly had to touch the pedals at all."

            "So you, the monkey, saved all of us?"

            "Damn straight. You owe me."

            "Yeah." Gojyo grinned. "Dibs on my dessert anytime."

            "I'll be calling you on that you know," Goku promised, handing him a glass of water with some painkillers.

            "And Sanzo?" Gojyo asked. "What's his condition?"

            "He woke up about a day ago, only long enough to ask for medicine, and fell back asleep."

            "Damn," the hanyou murmured, brows furrowing. "And Hakkai?"

            "He's still fine. Like me. He's healing fast because of his demon blood. You are too, though not at the same rate, he said. Hey," Goku waved a hand in front of his face, "Gooo-jyo? Look, I know you're worried about Sanzo, but Hakkai thinks he's going to make a full recovery. It'll just set us back a little bit. So stop looking so sad; he's gonna be fine. You know nothin' could kill him."

            "It's just…when I saw him lying there, all crumpled and defenseless…and when I saw the way he looked at me, so unguarded…" Gojyo's mind took him back to the very last seconds of his full consciousness; he had never felt such a sickness, such a deep, stabbing pain as he had then. He had never known emotional pain could translate to physical symptoms. He had been so certain that he was going to be abandoned a second time. "I was sure he was dying," he rasped, crimson eyes sad.

            "He was dying," Hakkai informed him, stepping into the room as he dried his hands on a cotton dishtowel. "But he's not now. Between the local healer and myself, we replenished his energy. All we have to do now is wait for his body to do the rest. Given his human blood, we may be here a while. Good thing I have this, ne?" Hakkai flashed Sanzo's goldcard with a smirk, taking Gojyo's empty plate for him.

            "I want to thank you." Gojyo murmured, looking to Goku, then Hakkai. "For saving him. And for saving me."

            "No need," Hakkai responded briskly, as though he were uncomfortable with the kappa's gratitude. Gojyo read his response in his eyes.

            You've done the same for me.

            "Yeah, no need," Goku parroted, "since you promised me your dessert whenever I want it, we can call it even."

            "Hey can I…can I see him?"

            "Of course," Hakkai nodded. "Can you walk unassisted?"

            "I don't know." Gojyo swung his long legs over the side of the bed, wrapping the sheet about his waist. "Lemme see." He put weight on his good leg, and limped along on the lacerated one. Goku moved to his side and leaned against him with a blush.

            "Don't take this the wrong way, dirty kappa."

            "Don't flatter yourself, dumb ape."

            They exchanged smiles.

 

            Sanzo's room smelled like a hospital. Gojyo recognized the strong, piercing scent of antiseptic that made his eyes water. And the faint scents of a person being sick, and blood. That metallic odor clung to the air deceitfully, beneath Hakkai's lemon-scented cleaner.

            Goku helped him into the leather-covered armchair near the bed, easing him down gently despite his muttered protests at being treated like an invalid. Once seated, he tugged the sheets further up his waist and steadied his dizzied head with one hand. "Thanks monkey."

            "Yeah whatever," Goku brushed it off, smiling slightly. "He looks better, don't he?"

            Gojyo nodded, ghosting his fingers over Sanzo's bare arm. Better, but still close to Death's door. He might have been a corpse, had it not been for the faint rise and fall of his battered chest. Gojyo wanted to cry, to see him so hurt, so obviously in pain. Sanzo who never got hurt too seriously. Sanzo who never woke up and asked for his pain pills. Sanzo who never called him by his name.

            You really almost left me, you son of a bitch, the kappa blinked rapidly.

            The priest looked like part of the sheets he was encased in. His skin had faded from a well-layered alabaster to a thin pallor, like a sheet of waxy paper incasing his insides. Stained bandages covered his shoulder and chest like pillows, and thinner gauze was bound about his arms. The sheet began at his waist, a bit above the navel, and Gojyo was afraid to ask about the condition of his legs. He couldn't recall the extent of Sanzo's injuries from his memory.

            He swallowed hard.

            "He looked worse," Goku informed him softly, "when we brought him in. 'Kai's really been working on him. Givin' him all his excess energy. I've been watching both of you while Hakkai sleeps and tries to rebuild his ki."

            "I can watch him," Gojyo said softly. "From now on. Let me stay by him."

            "You still needta rest," Goku stuttered, seeing his friend bent over the bed weakly and pressing the monk's hand to his lips. "But…stay with him a little longer," the monkey offered, turning to leave. "Until you're tired."

            Gojyo nodded, still gently handling Sanzo's palm, stroking it with the callused pad of his thumb. At least his skin was warm again, thin though it was.

            A soft sigh, followed shortly by a low grunt, came from the blond as his eyes flickered open. He moaned, batting his lashes and adjusting to the light. Gojyo felt the heavy weight in his hand and gently eased Sanzo's intact arm back onto the sheets. He met amethystine eyes with a staggered breath. They were as startlingly clear as they had been the moment before he almost slipped away.

            "Gojyo." His voice rasped, and he seemed entirely aware of it. A pink tongue flicked over his pale lips, and he turned his head to the side, looking longingly at the glass of water there.

            "Oh," Gojyo murmured, standing shakily and leaning against the bed as he propped Sanzo up enough to drink, holding the glass to his head. "Sorry," he murmured, spilling a bit on his naked chest and brushing it away with his hand. When the other pulled back, falling into the pillows with a hitching gasp, the kappa winced.

            "Medicine?" He offered.

            Sanzo grunted, and Gojyo pressed the pills gently to his lips. He watched an ivory throat contract with each swallow, terminated in a cough.

            "Monk…"

            Sanzo closed his eyes for a long moment, but somehow Gojyo knew he hadn't fallen back to sleep. When they flickered open again, he spoke.

            "Sanzo I--"

            "Don't," he groaned in reply, setting his jaw. "Don't say it."

            Gojyo quieted, touching his hand delicately. "Can I get something for you?"

            "Ch. Can you even walk?" He queried, disguising his concern effectively, in case anyone else happened to be listening.

            "Yeah, enough," Gojyo promised. "Hakkai says you're healing fast."

            "Tell that to my spleen."

            The sprite grinned, plucking Sanzo's hand up from the bedding and pressing a second chaste kiss to the knuckles, letting his lips linger, eyes closed. It felt so good to hold him.

            "Stop it," he said flatly, eyes glancing at the open door.

            "I can't help it, I thought you…I was so scared," Gojyo confessed in a whisper.

            "Don't embarrass yourself. I don't even have the strength to hit you, stupid kappa." Sanzo closed his eyes again, this time with the intent to sleep—his only manner of escaping what he didn't want to face—and he did. Gojyo waited.

            By the end of the second hour, Goku had tried to coax Gojyo from his seat twice, and could presently be heard dragging Hakkai in to do the job. The green-eyed healer approached his friend with a smile, gently pressing a warm palm over his bare shoulder.

            "You should come back to rest now, Gojyo," Hakkai murmured. "Sanzo's stable; I'll wake you if anything changes. But you must get your rest."

            "What about you? Givin' him all your energy…"

            "I've been asleep these past two hours. Goku only just woke me," he promised. Somehow he had managed to entice Gojyo from his chair and halfway down the hall before the kappa was conscious of it. "Promise me to sleep a bit, and then you can go back and sit with him."

            "Okay," he allowed, letting himself be eased back onto his bed, and then permitting Hakkai to straighten out the sheets over his body.

            "I'm glad your leg is feeling better, but you can't be on it too much…" Hakkai's voice became garbled, then faded, all within seconds of Gojyo's head hitting the pillow. He heard the monkey make some off-handed remark, or so he assumed it was by the tone, and then his vision crashed and he found himself floating pleasantly through a dreamless sleep.

 

            "He sure has been sleeping a long time…do you think he's doing better?" Goku's voice was the first sound he recognized when he awoke. He didn't bother opening his eyes. There was nothing to do, nowhere to go. Sanzo was hurt, and it was raining out. And to his great surprise, he had no desire to smoke.

            Scarlet irises hidden, he listened to the conversation around him in silence.

            "Oh I'm sure he is; he overestimates his own strength though…"

            "I know, he was sure worried about Sanzo…do you think he really loves him?"

            Gojyo tensed, and struggled to let his muscles relax again, lest they think he was awake. For some reason he had no great desire to be noticed right now, only to float between his conscious state and sleep.

            Hakkai made a sound, but Gojyo assumed he merely smiled and batted Goku's question away with a blink of his good eye.

            "What's important to us is that they both recover."

            "I'm not worried about Gojyo," Goku scoffed, "he's too stupid and stubborn to die. And Sanzo…I used to think he was too—stubborn, that is—but now…"

            What the hell? He was getting better!

            "I know." This time he could hear the soft, sad smile in the healer's voice. "He is on the mend, you know, Goku. He just has relapses. You have to remember certain internal organs were punctured, and he hardly has use of his right arm at all. Fortunate for him that he's ambidextrous, ne?"

            "Yeah, I couldn't imagine what it would be like not to have my right arm at my command. His whole shoulder is chewed up pretty bad…Ew. I can't imagine cleaning it like you do—I nearly lost my lunch. And I don't do that easily," the monkey pointed out, hopping up onto something, a table perhaps.

            "The sight of blood doesn't bother me anymore," Hakkai confided quietly, "so long as it's seen in the process of saving someone."

            "Yeah?" Goku sounded mildly impressed. "Well, that's why I use nyoi-bo, rather than a weapon like Gojyo's. I don't like a big mess."

            "Conservative," Hakkai jested. "Don't you think so Gojyo?"

            Of course he would know.

            Gojyo opened his eyes with a small smile. "That's not quite the word I'd use to describe you, ape."

            "Hey you're up," Goku smiled so widely it was obvious he had forgotten the barb before he heard it. "How you feelin'? Can you walk? Are you hungry? This inn has the world's best sticky buns. Want me to get you one? I'm getting hungry too, come to think of it…"

            "Nah, I'm fine, monkey. Thanks," he murmured, looking to Hakkai. "Sanzo?"

            "On the mend," the brunet promised, removing his monocle long enough to rub the glass against the tail of his shirt. "I've been watching his wounds for infection very carefully, and his body is one for healing. Everything's clean."

            "Can we be sure it'll stay that way?"

            "No, of course not. That's why I check it daily, and infuse him with my own youki just to hasten the healing process and try to relieve him of some of his pain."

            "I owe you a lot, 'Kai. Do you think…can you take some of my energy for him?"

            "I would have no idea how to do that, Gojyo, and even if I did, it wouldn't be wise. You lost almost as much blood as he did, and are in no condition…"

            "I know, I know, but I thought maybe just a little…anything to help. I can't stand this, just waiting…he's the last one I ever expected to get hurt." Gojyo was hauling himself out of bed, sheets wrapped about his waist as he limped towards his clean clothing.

            "Did some laundry while you were at it?"

            "Yes, I hope you don't mind…I got most of the blood out."

            "Thanks, man."

            "I see your leg is working better."

            "Like new," the kappa grinned, tugging his clothes on and wincing as he lifted his good leg and shifted his weight to his wound. He turned his head to glance back at the long series of stitches, aggravated and red, but clean, that lined the inside of his knee.

            "No infection," Hakkai murmured. "You too, healed cleanly. Goku's wound was another issue."

            "Probably 'cause monkey always flops around and gets himself dirty."

            "Are you lecturing others on cleanliness?"

            "Sorry," Gojyo grinned widely, "I guess I got no place talkin' about that, huh?"

            Hakkai only smiled.

            It was then that he realized Goku had left the room. The redhead assumed he was downstairs piling sticky buns onto a plate for his mid-afternoon snack part 2.

            "I'm gonna go…see him. Just peek in."

            "Okay," Hakkai nodded, "but only if you promise to eat whatever I bring you when you are done."

            "Deal."

            Hakkai went quickly down the stairs, and Gojyo limped slightly on his way to the priest's room. He stopped before the heavy oak door, finding it open a few inches, and peered in. He was surprised to see Goku there, kneeling at the edge of the bed with the monk's hand between his own. Crying.

            Shit.

            His lips were moving, but Gojyo couldn't hear the words. Silent tears streaked down his wide face as he looked up at his mentor, brown eyes filled with longing.

            I'm not the only one hurting here…Goku…Sanzo's like his big brother. Images of Jien flashed through his mind. His protector. Sanzo saved him, and here's Goku, unable to return the favor…he must feel as helpless and sick inside as I do. Poor monkey…

            Gojyo turned away to give Goku his privacy, wandering back into his and Hakkai's room and sinking onto the soft mattress of the bed. In no time the healer had returned with a plate balanced on the palm of one hand.

            "Ah you must be hungry," Hakkai assumed. "Good."        

            "Yeah, thanks."

            "Gojyo."

            "Huh?" He accepted the plate between two large hands and lowered it to his lap. The kappa's scarlet eyes locked with green.

            "He's going to pull through. You of all people ought to do this. Sanzo's the one doubting; we have to be the ones to believe for him."

            Gojyo's lips twisted into some form of a sad, ironic smile. "Yeah, our monk's never been one to believe, has he?"

            "The Gods sent him on this mission for a reason. They won't let him die. I've told him this, but logic doesn't always work with him. He's in love with you, after all," Hakkai said with a small twitch of his lips, the beginnings of a true smile.

            "Aa." Gojyo agreed quietly, nudging his food about his plate. He wondered how Hakkai knew. Sanzo had never betrayed any tenderness or sentimental emotions towards him. Or even kindness. Everything had gone on as it had been. Only Gojyo had been present when Sanzo made his final confession. Even the kappa had been unable to tell up until then. The monk was guarded by more than a golden breastplate.

            As always, the healer was able to answer unspoken questions. "It was in his eyes when he looked at you. Always a flicker that he had trouble disguising."

            "Aa. Observant," Gojyo murmured.

            "Who?" Goku queried, eyes lighting up when he saw his friend eating. "Hey you even got some of the good stuff this time, not just mushed up corn and potatoes."

            That little guy bounces back s'damn fast…he doesn't want us to know.

            "Yeah imagine that," Gojyo grinned. "Here to collect your fee?" He held out a small container of pudding before the monkey's wide eyes in offering. Goku swiped it aside.

            "Nah, you need it now, to get well. Besides, I'm reserving that right for when we have ice cream, cake, pie, cobbler, cookies, tarts, or pastries. Pudding can be yours."

            "How generous," he said mockingly, reaching out a hand to rub the porcupine hair springing up all over the top of Goku's head. "How ya feelin' huh?"

            "What's that supposedta mean? I'm the fittest of any of us. I have the fewest wounds, and I've been up the most. Also, I really, really like chocolate."

            "He's discovered caffeine." Hakkai informed his recuperating patient.

            "I see." Gojyo was beginning to eat, though the food was rather tasteless. Obviously it wasn't Hakkai's making, Hakkai who could make canned food taste like gourmet with only a campfire and whining monkey for encouragement.

            A crack of thunder in the distance caught their attention, and three heads turned in sync towards the window as a fresh sheet of rain began to pelt the cracking glass.

            "Oh my," Hakkai murmured, "I do hope that doesn't break in the night…"

            "I hope it doesn't break over me," Goku emphasized, pointing to his bed. "Jeez, storms are kinda scary when you're in the middle of nowhere and staying in a haunted hotel."

            "Goku, now I've explained to you that this hotel isn't haunted, it's merely…" Hakkai's voice drifted off into the back of his awareness as Gojyo's gaze focused on the steady thump, thump, thump of the rain shower outside. Thunder grumbled in the distance after a faint flash of lightning, and the wind picked up, tossing buckets of water at the window. The rain made him think of Sanzo, and how much the monk was altered by the casual phenomenon. Not that Gojyo didn't understand why.

            He was just glad Sanzo was asleep now, and hoped it would be a clear moon that awakened him.

           

Waning Crescent

 

            Gojyo had known they would be leaving from the day Sanzo managed to walk, or stumble, down the stairs.

            He and Hakkai had been playing cards in the lounge, and he had been losing money he didn't have. Goku, between snacks, had been running inside and out, eagerly awaiting the return of their hostess, who had promised to make some sort of pork stew for their early dinner meal.

            It had been about two weeks, and Gojyo's leg, save for the jagged scar running up the backside of his knee, had healed completely. He had his demon blood to thank for that, and more so, Hakkai's good nursing.

            "I'll take two please," Hakkai smiled, placing two cards face down on the table and accepting the two dealt him. His expression never wavered; Gojyo had always thought he was the master of poker-faces. And then he met Hakkai.

            "Fuck. I fold," Gojyo sighed, letting his cards drop.

            "Gojyo, we're not betting for money; there's really no point in folding."

            "Says the man with three of a kind," the kappa guessed, leaning forward to peer over Hakkai's cards. "Shit Hakkai! Do you have cards up those sleeves or somethin'?" Hakkai had a full house, queens over tens.

            "Of course not Gojyo! If I were going to cheat, do you think I'd bother doing so when the stakes are so low?" He gestured to their plastic poker chips with a laugh.

            "You gotta teach me how you do that someday," the redhead murmured, leaning back in his chair and stretching his arms about above his head. A flash of white caught his eye, and he looked up to the staircase against the wall, where Sanzo was gripping the banister tightly and making his way down each steep step very carefully.

            "Sanzo!" Goku yelped, charging into the lounge with a small stack of cookies on a plate; he dropped them as he darted forward. "You shouldn't be walking so soon!"

            "Get back, ape," Sanzo muttered, trusting most of his weight—which at this point couldn't be very much at all—to the creaking wooden banister. Gojyo winced at the grimace on his face and his slow, steady hobbling down the stairway. It was not a fluid motion beneath his cream-colored robes, but somehow the monk managed to make it look halfway graceful.

            Gojyo strode to the bottom of the stairs, reaching a hand out to him only to have it smacked away in anger. He rolled his eyes and stood his ground, waiting for Sanzo to release the banister from his grip. The kappa noticed his right arm, still bandaged beneath the robes, hung limply at his side.

            "Stop bein' an ass and lemme help you out," Gojyo muttered, red eyes boring into the priest's. Sanzo ched him and strode forward carefully, managing on his own.

            "Get the jeep loaded up," he instructed Hakkai. "We set off now."

            "Now?" Hakkai shook his head. He had cleaned up the cards. "Sanzo we can't; you're still too weak to travel. Ah--" He held up his hand against the blond's protest. "I've not infused you with nearly enough energy yet, and your body is still healing from blood loss. Besides, your wounds are still paining you."

            "I can handle that," Sanzo ground out. "Now get the damn jeep ready, because we're leaving now."

            "Man, think about it. Can you really last a long drive like that? You needta lay down," Gojyo advised, pressing a palm gently over his left shoulder. Sanzo jerked forward and out of his reach.

            "You said it's a twelve hour drive to the next down." Sanzo pointed out. "Before we were attacked, you told us there was a chain of towns coming up. So we'll make a stop at each one. But we set off now. We've wasted too much damn time here."

            Hakkai sighed, knowing when he was beaten, and nodded. "Alright. Goku, start packing things up. Gojyo and I will load the jeep."

            "You mean we won't get pork stew!?"

 

            Gojyo was counting down the minutes until they arrived at the next town. The car trip had started out well enough, everyone behaving like his normal self, but as time passed everyone began to notice Sanzo's paling, and occasional twinge of pain. Gojyo caught his face in the rearview mirror on occasion, and when the priest thought he wasn't looking, his face would tense up in a silent gesture of agony. The kappa was worried.

            So was Goku, apparently. The little monkey had stopped whining about food an hour ago. Hakkai was urging Hakuryu a little faster, and Sanzo wasn't snapping at anyone. In fact he was incredibly silent.

            "Careful, a bump coming up," Hakkai warned, and Gojyo looked up just in time to see the monk clench his jaw tightly against a cry as his shoulder was jostled painfully. The wound in his back, too, was probably bleeding and irritated by the jostling of the leather seats. Hakuryu kuued an apology.

            Gojyo leaned forward and placed his palm over the monk's good shoulder, stroking his nape gently with the pad of his thumb. "Not too far," he whispered, forgetting once again Sanzo's dislike for public displays of affection. To his shock he received only a grumbled utterance in return. He removed his hand.

            "Not far at all," Hakkai added on after a moment. "I can see the dots of the city up ahead on the horizon. We'll be there a little before midnight."

 

            They arrived, and the first thing everyone concerned himself with was getting Sanzo into a bed. Gojyo insisted on rooming with him, and promised Hakkai he would call for him if anything happened. Hakkai briefed him on how to change and re-wrap Sanzo's bandages, and cleanse the wounds, though it was nothing Gojyo hadn't done before for himself.

            "You guys go ahead and pick up a late dinner. Bring me and Baldy something too," Gojyo smiled, closing the door of his and Sanzo's bedroom behind him. The priest was still lying atop the bed in his robes, panting softly at the effort of climbing up the stairs, which he had done unassisted.

            "You shoulda let me carry you," Gojyo reminded him, sitting at the side of their bed. "You're in pain."

            "It's nothing."

            "It's something," the redhead argued, running a hand over Sanzo's chest and parting the robes. He was surprised to notice only bandages beneath them, and a lot of bare skin. Sanzo wasn't wearing his leather shirt because of the wound on his back, nor his gloves, because of the lacerations of his arms.

            "Can I get you somethin'? Vodka, pain pills?"

            "No," he grunted, turning his head to the side. "Just let me sleep, stupid kappa…"

            He could sense the other's embarrassment at being wounded. "Okay, Sanzo," he promised. "But you don't gotta be so stubborn about this. You should open up a little, and accept everyone else's help for once."

            "I don't need it."

            "You did."

            Sanzo quieted, sighing softly as his breathing evened out.

            "Look, man, when I saw you lying there like that…and when I held you, you were so light, and so pale. I was scared you were just gonna break in my hands, leave me…but what you said…I--"

            "Shut up Gojyo," Sanzo shook his head, eyes falling shut. "Don't do this."

            Gojyo quieted again. "Hakkai told me to change your bandages." He stood and went to unravel clean gauze. It took five minutes to remove Sanzo's robes without hurting him, and another five to persuade him to keep the sheet off of his body long enough for the kappa to clean his wounds and check them for infection.

            "Stop tuggin' 'em back up," Gojyo argued, jerking the thin cotton fabric back down. "It's not like I ain't seen it before," he said with a smirk, pressing a soft kiss to Sanzo's chest. "Though I'd sure liketa see it more."

            "Ch. Ero-kappa."

            "Only around you," he cooed, snickering at his own joke and Sanzo's bemused expression. His hands gently re-wrapped each wound, taking the most care with the gored flesh of his shoulder.

            "Can you move that arm at all?"

            "Not without it burning like hell."

            "At least you know it works."
            "Tch."

            They exchanged short dialogues each time Gojyo moved to attend to a different wound. While rubbing ointment or gel onto the irritated red stitches as instructed, he would hum softly, and Sanzo would tell him to shut up, and get him a cigarette.

            "Once I'm done," the kappa stipulated, a little grin pulling at his lips. "You sure are feisty for someone in your condition."

            "I want my gun."

            Gojyo snickered and brushed a kiss atop his forehead. "I'm not that dumb, houshi-sama. You'll shoot me between the eyes just as soon as look at me." Finished, finally, he allowed Sanzo to cover himself with the sheet and began plucking his own clothing off.

            "I'm gonna go shower real quick; do you think you can manage without me for five minutes?"

            "Don't slip and fall," the priest muttered, closing his eyes and easing his head back onto the pillows. He lay at the side of the bed nearest the nightstand, with access to the light. Gojyo's spot was untouched, and closer to the door. He ghosted a hand across the space when he must have thought the kappa's back was turned.

            "Be right back," the hanyou promised, hurrying into the shower after discarding the rest of his clothes, and coming out damp and shiny, his skin smelling deliciously clean. Dropping his towel, he climbed into bed beside his lover, placing chaste kisses up the side of his left arm.

            "Hey baby…"

            "Don't call me baby."

            "Sanzo-chan…"

            "Gojyo!"

            "Sorry, sorry," the kappa grinned, clearly not. "You just look s'damn gorgeous lying there like that. Let me know the second you're healed enough to fool around," he joked, turning onto his side to face the priest. "And Sanzo," he said more seriously, "tell me the second you're in pain, or even think Hakkai could help out, okay? Wake me up if you gotta."

            "I'm fine, you stupid kappa."

            "Right." Gojyo kissed his mouth tenderly, running one hand down the side of his jaw as their lips lingered. "Goodnight, Sanzo."

            "Hn."

            He slept with his red hair buried under one cheek, at ease atop the fluffy pillow and within reach of Sanzo, though not touching him. He was on the side of his good arm, to avoid accidentally rattling his wound. The monk's beleaguered breathing evened out eventually, and the tense muscles of his face relaxed the most they ever did without extra stimulus. By then, when the narrow crescent shining through the window was directly overhead, Gojyo fell asleep.

 

            They set out the next day despite Gojyo and Hakkai's vehement protests, and Goku's whining about it through mouthfuls of food. Sanzo wasn't about to be dissuaded, wounds or not.

            "Sanzo, you should really consider resting a little longer. Yesterday you were--" Hakkai cut himself off when he read the deadly threat in the monk's eyes; his shoulders drooped. "Okay, Sanzo-san," he murmured, nodding to the little white dragon on his shoulder. Hakuryu transformed and the Ikkou piled into the roofless vehicle. Gojyo was careful to keep an eye on Sanzo throughout the journey, and became increasingly uncomfortable at the pain etching lines across his lover's face.

            "Hey…do you think we should take a rest?" He proposed hesitantly, leaning forward between the two front seats. "I mean, the land's really rocky and Sanzo, you're-"

            "Kappa," the priest fairly snarled, though Gojyo wasn't foolish enough to take it personally. It was the pain. "Shut up."

            "Okay," he agreed, passing Hakkai a silent message with his eyes. Hakkai started up next.

            "Really it wouldn't be too terrible to stop here; we've been out of the desert for a while, and the savannah terrain is terribly hard on Hakuryu's fe—erm, that is, wheels."

            "She seems fine to me," the monk said stoically.

            "She hides her discomfort very well," Hakkai murmured, "like others I know."

            "Do I have to shoot you and drive myself?" Sanzo snapped, gritting his teeth when Hakuryu ran over a particularly bumpy length of terrain. The hanyou behind him saw Sanzo's long, slender fingers curl about a fistful of robes so tightly that the knuckles reddened, then turned white. The kappa placed a hand on his good shoulder, squeezing gently. He didn't dare say anything. For Sanzo this was a matter of pride. Gojyo was beginning to understand that the priest felt the need to prove himself to his three youkai comrades. Whenever any of them, even Gojyo, was wounded, they healed within a week or two at most because of their demon blood. But Sanzo was purely human, and even with Hakkai's energy his wounds were taking much longer to smooth over.

            You can't help what you are, Sanzo. You've never had a problem with it before, so why push it? But he didn't say it aloud, knowing that it would be unwise to nudge that sore spot with him. Sanzo couldn't stand the thought of weakness, and was sickened by traces of it in himself. He didn't want to be the one who held up their journey.

            "Guys," Goku murmured, waking up from his nap at the sound of conversation. "Hey 'Kai?" He whispered, teeth clenched.

            "Monkey your face is whiter 'n' Baldy's," Gojyo commented with a furrow of his brows. Goku's complexion had paled considerably beneath a light sunburn. The dark shocks of hair falling over his forehead were damp with perspiration and clinging to sticky flesh. "You look like shit."

            "I feel like shit. Those eggs this mornin' that I ate musta been bad!"

            "Or maybe you just ate too many of them," the kappa rolled his eyes.

            "I hardly had anything!" Goku protested, clutching his stomach with a long groan and hanging over Jeep's door. "I'm gonna hurl!"

            "Hardly any!" Gojyo exclaimed, patting his back awkwardly, "dude, you had like fourteen eggs."

            "Twelve," Goku corrected him in a gurgling tone. "And that's nothin' compared to what I usually eat. But they did taste kinda funny…Ohno--" Goku began hacking and groaning against the door, and suddenly the Ikkou found themselves sprawling across the thin grass of the plains, Hakuryu flapping above them and kyuuing.

            Hakkai chuckled without much humor, going to help Goku up and pat his back. Sanzo groaned and swore. "It seems Hakuryu is very uncomfortable with the idea of a sick passenger."

            Gojyo helped Sanzo stand, ignoring his muttered curses and brushing sand from the surface of his bandages. "You okay bab—Sanzo?"

            "Fine, baka." His eyes flashed at Gojyo with a tiny smile in them; the kappa's first reaction had been to go help Sanzo up and check his injuries. When the redhead smiled, he received a brusque response, and Sanzo walked carefully to Goku.

            "Monkey, get it out of your system now so we can get going."

            "Sanzo," Goku whined, clutching his stomach, "I'm really sick. I never get sick!"

            "It's true; this has to be something serious to have upset his iron stomach," Hakkai agreed, helping Goku stand and walk towards Hakuryu. "We'll have to take a rest here. She's not about to transform again with the risk of Goku becoming…ill in the back seat."

            "I'll unpack the tents," Gojyo offered, hoping that if he did, Sanzo would rest on his pallet and fall asleep. "Hakkai, you'd better take care of monkey."

            "Thank you Gojyo," Hakkai flashed him a smile and led Goku off to a nearby spring; the little blue ponds dotted the land; at least five were within walking distance of their campsite. "Ah, Gojyo, could you take care of cleaning Sanzo's wounds please?"

            "Sure thing."

            Sanzo growled, "I'm standing right here, you morons. I'll clean my own damn wounds."

            "Sanzo-chan," Gojyo drawled the moment Hakkai and Goku had wandered off to one of the springs. "You have to let me help; there's no way to bind your shoulder with only one hand anyways. C'mon let's get the sand off your bandages…" He led the priest by the hand, until it was slapped away, towards a nearer circle of clear blue. They saw their reflections in it clearly, and it made the sprite smile.

            "What are you grinning at, perverted bastard?" Sanzo dropped the top half of his robes, revealing a series of exposed wounds that were beginning to scar over.

            "You." Gojyo said impudently, his smile curving into a licentious smirk. "Now drop the rest."

            "The wound's on my shoulder, idiot!"

            "Who said anything about wounds?" Gojyo laughed, beginning to carefully unbind the scarlet gauze about the priest's shoulder, chewing at his lower lip as the bite marks were revealed. He couldn't imagine what it must have felt like to have that youkai's razor-sharp teeth clamp over the flesh and pierce the sensitive bone. Hakkai's stitches and massive donations of ki had forced the bone back together, making it possible for Sanzo to utilize his arm without passing out, but the flesh wound still looked horrible.

            "Stop staring. Get the antiseptic."

            "I've got it," Gojyo assured him, dabbing it over the wound and listening to a low hiss escape the monk's mouth. His head fell back and the cords of his neck strained in pain.

            "Sorry," he whispered, blowing on the wound to dry it quickly. "It looks better than it did."

            "It had better," the blond muttered, catching his breath with a heaving chest. He closed his eyes again and allowed the demon to gently rebind the wounds, watching his brow furrow in concentration. Hakkai must have given him fairly explicit instructions.

            "Ya know, Hakkai'll probably give you more infusions tonight. He's not even tired, since the dumb ol' monkey got sick halfway through." Gojyo didn't add how grateful he was for Goku's ailment. Not that he wanted the poor monkey to be sick, but he was relieved to see Sanzo resting still and having his injuries inspected again. Goku was his only soft spot, and that would have been the only thing the priest would have reasonably stopped for.

            "Ch."

            "Okay drop it a little lower. I've gotta bind your back…" Gojyo went about it quickly, knowing that the deep gashes that penetrated muscle and fortunately missed—by a hair—the spinal column, gave Sanzo great pain. To his credit, he never once whimpered or moaned.

            "It's looking better," Gojyo said half-heartedly, reminding himself to ask Hakkai about that specifically. The long claws of whatever had attacked him went nearly all the way through. "Does it hurt as bad as it did?"

            "Yes." Sanzo's admission made the kappa realize it probably hurt more. He was no longer drugged and sleeping the whole day, but painfully conscious and aware of his agony. The jostling of the jeep would only have heightened his aches.

            Gojyo was extra gentle because Sanzo couldn't see him and rebuke him for it. He applied the cream Hakkai had given him to the wound, watching the strong corded muscles of the priest's back tense and rise beneath ivory flesh as he became anxious with the stinging.

            "All the other cuts look better too," Gojyo offered, wrapping the last of the gauze about his leader's chest and pressing a tender kiss to his nape, letting his cheek rest against the smooth skin there for a moment. "Isn't there something I can do for you? Give you?"

            "Stop coddling me," he grumbled, using his good arm to slip the sleeves of his robe back on. "I'm not dying."

            "Not now."

            Sanzo turned to look at him, wincing a bit with the movement; their faces were close enough for Gojyo to recognize the pain hidden behind his amethystine irises.

            "You really should be more careful," Hakkai advised, strolling up to them with a small smile. "Gojyo, could you go finish pitching the tents please? I'm going to work on Sanzo's wounds for a little while. I have plenty of excess energy today because of our pit stop."

            "How's monkey?" The kappa asked as he rose, headed to the clearing.

            "Very ill, but it should pass by morning. I've told him to lay off food for the night, and just sleep it off between bouts."

            "Gross," the redhead commented on his way out, passing Hakkai and imploring glance before he turned completely away. The healer recognized it and gave him a curt nod in return.

            "Well, Sanzo-san, please drop the top of your robes so that I can work on your wounds…" Hakkai's gentle voice faded quickly as Gojyo approached the tents. Already erect. A campfire too.

            "What the hell?"

            "Hey Gojyo," Goku smiled to him softly, unrolling their pallets and arranging them in the tents. He had a cookie between his lips as he worked, biting off chunks as he went.

            "What the hell monkey! I thought you were sick! Didn't Hakkai just tell you not to eat anything t'night?"

            "No," Goku shook his head, "Stop starin' and go find more firewood."

            "You damn trickster…" A smile spread over his face in realization. "You were awake that whole time in the jeep, weren't you?"

            "Duh. Like I could get any sleep with your fat mouth flapping." He snatched another cookie from his back pocket as he worked.

            "I…hey look," The kappa paused and shoved his hands into his pockets. "Thanks, monkey."

            "I didn't do it for you, dumbass." Goku grinned. "But let's face it, Sanzo wouldn't have let us stop for you getting' all sick. Probably woulda left you behind. So go get the firewood huh? I've gotta eat while I still can—by the time Sanzo gets back I've gotta fast."

            "I don't think skipping a single meal is fasting, ape."

            "It's gonna be impossible!" He groaned, flopping onto his own pallet and stretching himself out with a yawn. "I doubt if I can even sleep with my stomach bein' so empty and all…maybe Sanzo'll fall asleep early and I can eat."

            "Hakkai's working on him now."

            "How is he?" The question emerged in a hesitant tone; Goku's golden eyes widened in fear. "The wounds are okay, aren't they?"

            "Well, they're not infected. I can't say I know much about wounds…I mean, not as much as Hakkai, but they're healing really slowly."

            Goku made a sound of frustration, cracking his knuckles. "I just wish I woulda had more time. I woulda made them suffer for it…" For a moment Gojyo thought he saw a flicker of the youkai's other side, an image of Son Goku's claws and fangs, long, wild hair trailing behind him. His love for Sanzo was enough to break his limiter.

            "Dude. You saved his life. And mine," Gojyo murmured, pressing a hand atop his shoulder. "You did enough. Now you've gotta make sure he makes it."

            Goku smiled up at him faintly, nodding slowly. "Okay."

 

            That evening they slept well, all four of them lounging beneath the stars in the cool night air. The blue wind whistled across the plains, dusting the tops of shrubs and small trees and stirring up faint, earthy smells in the distance. Crickets chirped softly against the silence. Gojyo felt the breeze stroke his face and trickle through his hair like water in a continuous stream.

            The other three, all asleep, looked content, if not happy. Hakkai slept motionlessly, lying on his back with his monocle still clasped to the bridge of his nose, arms folded neatly atop his stomach and above his head. The night air mussed his hair, pulling the dark puff back from his forehead and revealing a tiny scar Gojyo hadn't known was there. The healer sighed softly in his sleep and turned his head away.

            Goku stretched out on his side and rolled every five minutes, on the dot. His limbs splayed haphazardly, he snored softly or muttered in slumber, clutching at his blankets. The kappa imagined he was dreaming of the big dinner he was going to eat tomorrow night to make up for his "fasting."

            And then Sanzo. Hakkai had exhausted himself by plying Sanzo with his own ki and forcing the deep lacerations on his back to heal. Muscles had been strung together and meshed, veins repaired, nerve-endings stroked back to life. Gojyo hadn't seen the wounds since, but he had noticed Sanzo experimentally flexing the fingers of his right hand occasionally during dinner. Now the priest lay quietly, sleeping with pursed lips and a complexion that had regained some of its color.

            The moonlight was so faint that the stars might have outshone it had it not been for the wisps of clouds hovering low over the earth. Despite the darkness of the night, Sanzo's golden hair, shaggy and a bit longer than he usually wore it, reflected the light. Gojyo traced the firm lines of his profile with his eyes, lingering on the soft seam of his mouth. Arms resting comfortably, rather than rigidly at his sides, made him appear a little less severe in sleep. His wounded arm lay immobile out of necessity, but the other draped casually over his stomach; Gojyo could see his fingertips stroking the cream-colored robes in quick, reflexive flicks. The hanyou sat up for just a moment, looking across at Sanzo and marveling at how he looked so much like a dryad in the nighttime: slender neck, narrow wrists and ankles, elegant hands.

            And then his eyes flickered open, as though he had never been asleep, and completely aware that Gojyo had been looking. Amethysts glowed in the nighttime, and the priest made a small "ch" before letting his fair lashes brush high cheekbones again in slumber. Gojyo eased himself back onto his pallet, facing Sanzo.

            He could have sworn he heard music playing.

           

New Moon

 

            By the end of the month, Sanzo's wounds had healed almost completely, and aside from an occasional wince during a fight, or when Gojyo became too rough in bed, the monk showed no signs of being in any pain at all. Hakkai's youkai energy had hastened the repair processes of his human body.

            "We've made excellent time; it's only eleven, and we've already reached the last village in this little mountain belt." Hakkai parked Hakuryu outside of a small wooden inn. "How many rooms?" He asked, hesitating, because he could never be sure anymore.

            "Two," Sanzo said simply, earning a whine from the monkey in the backseat.

            "Sanzo! Why can't we all have our own rooms? Oh!" He rolled his eyes and kicked Gojyo's leg, "Okay then, so why can't Hakkai and I have our own rooms?"

            "I'm not going to be responsible for bankrupting the Three Aspects!" Sanzo growled irritably, gesturing for Hakkai to go in and do as he bade him. The healer obeyed with a characteristic smile, waving to them as the door of the inn swallowed him up.

            "It's kinda big for an inn," Gojyo pointed out after a moment or two of dead silence. "Wonder if they have a bar…"

            "A bar!" Goku protested angrily, slamming a small fist into the kappa's shoulder. "Whatdya need a bar for! I'm gonna watch you like a hawk you stupid ero-kappa! If you cheat on Sanzo even one time--"

            "For alcohol you bakasaru!" Goku received an identical jostle to his shoulder from a much larger hand. "This better not be one of those 'dry counties' Hakkai was talkin' about before." Folding his arms over his chest and grinning to Sanzo through the rearview mirror, the redhead leaned back in his seat, content to feel the vehicle motionless beneath him. He wasn't tired, but he thought then that he could seriously use a fresh pack of Hi-Lites and a six pack of beer.

            "Good news," Hakkai came out of the small inn holding two room keys; one he tossed to Sanzo, the other he slipped into his side pocket. "Now help me unload Hakuryu so she can take a rest."

            "And so we can eat," Goku reminded him, "I'm so hungry. This time I really did think I was gonna die."

            "Promises, promises," Gojyo chuckled, helping Hakkai with the heavy baggage and tossing the lighter ones to Goku, who complained about seeing spots on the peripheries of his vision.

            "Are any restaurants even open?" The kappa queried as they mounted the staircase, listening to the old wooden boards creak beneath them. The inn or "motel" as the modern young owners called it, looked identical to all the others in which they had stayed. The woodwork was antique and not well-kept, but clean nonetheless. Simple furniture a degree above Spartan in quality lined the sides of the halls and cluttered the lounge. The rooms were small, clean, and bare of artwork and color. Each had a double bed, nightstand, and small chair in the corner. There was a trunk in Hakkai and Goku's room to serve as a luggage stand, and a scratched up coffee table in Sanzo and Gojyo's room for the same purpose, although its legs looked faulty.

            "I asked about that; there is one downtown still open. Would you like Goku and me to bring you both back something?"

            Gojyo gave Hakkai a contented grin, thanking him for his generosity and consideration in silence. "Yeah, that sounds good."

            "Leave it outside," Sanzo stipulated, then, coloring a bit, added, "if you wake me up, I'll kill you. I've got a headache."

            "Nee, Sanzo-chan, I've got the perfect cure for that," the kappa promised, draping an arm about his waist and drawing him close. "Doesn't hurt a bit either."

            "Ero-kappa!" The priest bellowed, smashing his harisen into the hanyou's forehead with a scowl. Gojyo fell backwards in shock and steadied his spinning head to the sound of Goku's laughter.

            "We'll bring you back whatever I don't eat," the monkey promised, casting an eager glance to Hakkai. "Can we go now?"

            "Alright," the healer agreed, unlocking their door and depositing their small bags. "We'd better hurry so that we don't keep them open any later than usual…"

            "Hakkai." Sanzo poked his head out from his and Gojyo's room.

            "Hm?"

            He handed him the goldcard, "Buy Marlboros."

            "And Hi-Lites!" Gojyo called from inside.

            "Will do," the youkai promised, leading Goku back down the stairs. 

            "So," Gojyo smirked wickedly to the monk, kicking off his shoes and dropping his vest. "Eating will occupy the bakasaru for a good hour or two…"

            "What of it?" Sanzo had already sat in the small chair and unfolded his newspaper; he plucked his spectacles from a hidden pocket in his robes as Gojyo advanced.

            "Is there something more interesting than me in that paper?"

            "Lots of such somethings."

            "Prick."

            "Bastard."

            "Ah well," Gojyo pasted on a false smile, resorting to the same technique he had been using for the past week against Sanzo's defenses. "It's okay, Sanzo, if you wanna just say no. Just tell me if your wounds are upsetting you too much, baby. I know your body's only human…" He wandered towards the bathroom, hiding the smirk on his face as he heard the newspaper snap shut behind him.

            "Kappa." His voice stung the air more than the paper's crumpling had.

            "Hmm?" He turned, unable to conceal a little smile. "Advil, Sanzo-chan?"

            "Get undressed."

 

            "This is really, really good," Goku said through a mouthful of fried fish. "You should 'ave some, Hakkai."

            "I'm full, but thank you…" Only thirty minutes had passed since they sat down, and already Goku's had accumulated a bill of over fifty dollars on his own.

            "You know, Goku, the sign up front says that they close very soon; we should probably be leaving…"

            "What're you, kidding? I just got started!"

            "It would be inconsiderate to keep the cook so late."

            "Nonsense," again the heavyset but fleet-footed man appeared before them, a notepad in hand. "I wish I had a hundred customers like him," he gave Goku a toothy grin. "You're payin' my bills, kid."

            "Gladta 'elp," Goku said as he chomped through a buttered roll.

            "Where does he get such an appetite anyways?" The man asked Hakkai, scratching the top of a bad comb over.

            "Oh I wouldn't know," the healer chuckled, assuming that not many youkai had passed through the region; he didn't want to open conversation with such a controversial topic.

            "Izze yours?"

            "Mine?" Hakkai flushed, shaking his head. "No, no. He's only a few years younger than I am," the healer lied. Goku looked about eighteen, for his five centuries of life.

            "Oh! Sorry there." The older man chuckled. "I didn't guess the kid was so old."

            "I'm not old," Goku grumbled, downing his glass of lemonade. "I'm still growing. It's why I'm so hungry." He grinned and folded his legs on the chair. "Hey can I order some more?"

            All Hakkai could think of was Sanzo's irritation at their spending so much on food. He almost groaned aloud in frustration when the cook and owner of the small restaurant agreed amicably, pulling out his pencil and jotting down Goku's orders.

            "Comin' right up," he promised, dashing back to the kitchen on the smallest pair of feet Hakkai had ever seen on one of his height and girth.

            "Do you think Sanzo'll be mad 'cause we're late with the food?" Goku asked, nibbling at the stick of his corndog.

            "Somehow I have the feeling he won't even notice…"

 

            "You okay?" Gojyo breathed, dark red eyes shaded by thick lashes.

            "Ung." Sanzo rolled over onto his back with a groan, covering his forehead with one arm.

            "Your wounds," Gojyo persisted, "they okay?"

            "Fine," the monk insisted, fighting for breath. Gojyo watched his chest heave as his damp lips parted, fingers running through his mane. He was so rarely permitted such an intimate view of his lover. The monk lay with his knees still bent, feet digging into the sheets at the end of the bed. The redhead slid halfway over him, pressing delicate kisses along the warm column of his neck.

            "Like Galatea…"

            "Shut up," Sanzo groaned, grasping a fistful of Gojyo's mane and dragging his lips upwards to lock with his own in a frenzied kiss.

            The kappa let out a shaky breath in delight, hands sliding up, up, to where they rested on his lover's shoulders, massaging the taut muscles there and stroking the sensitive, scarred skin with the pads of his thumbs. "Baby," he whispered between kisses, sliding a strong thigh over both of Sanzo's and grinding himself eagerly to the monk's hip. "Feels good."

            "Don't call me baby," came a muttered reply from beneath a fan of crimson hair. His breath hitched, and he drew his lover closer, one hand steadying itself on the small of his back. "Ahng…like that," the monk breathed, feeling a taut thigh between both of his own.

            "Yeah, you like that?" Gojyo grinned, astonished that Sanzo allowed him to speak at all. Usually he was adamant about their silence, outside of husky breaths and moans.

            Throwing his head back in a deep-throated groan, the fair-haired human beneath him jerked his hips up in a none-too-subtle gesture, and parted his thighs for emphasis. It sent a blush raging through the kappa's body; Sanzo was never so submissive with him, so open. He usually had to fight to stay on top.

            "Anythin' you want angel," Gojyo promised, kissing him passionately as he locked their bodies together in a primitive embrace.

            Outside he heard, but only faintly, the rustling of bags and Goku's putting down what must be their cold dinner outside of the door. His little feet scooted away in a hurry along the scuffed wooden floors. Sanzo, for a change, didn't seem to notice.

 

            "Are you sure you don't want any of this?" Goku asked again, holding up his take-home case of cheesecake. It had been "on the house" for Chef George's favorite new customer.

            "I'm quite sure Goku," Hakkai promised, leaning back on his side of their bed. "And don't bring it over here; stay by the luggage stand."

            The monkey was perched on a rickety chair beside their luggage stand, picking at his cherry-covered dessert with a plastic fork. "Okay, okay."

            "Did you put the bag with Sanzo and Gojyo's food by their door?"

            "Yeah, and the cigarettes," Goku nodded. "You sure Sanzo's…feeling okay?"

            "Yes. Why do you ask? I stopped transferring energy to him two weeks ago, when his shoulder and back scarred over. He doesn't even need to wear bandages anymore."

            "'Cause he sure sounded like he was in pain."

            "Aa." Hakkai nodded, understanding what Goku misunderstood. "He's not, don't worry, Goku-chan."

            "I'm not," he allowed his voice to trail off, wincing when he heard a similar cry from the other side of the wall. "Okay maybe a little bit, but only because you won't tell me why you know he's not hurting. I mean, it sounds like they're fighting. What kind of kissing makes that much sound?" Looking skeptical, Goku folded his legs up lotus-style and balanced his Styrofoam tray on his lap, fork pausing in mid-air when the noises halted. "I got the feelin' you're not telling me everything, Hakkai."

            Hakkai only smiled to him. "Perhaps it's time to sleep."

            "Stop avoiding my questions!"

            "You're going to spill your cake."

            "Oh no!" Snatching at the slipping container, Goku forgot his curiosity in favor of a more primitive need: his stomach. Finishing his dessert in record time, the monkey clambered over Hakkai and onto his half of the bed, draping his cape across him. "G'night then."

            "Goodnight…"

 

            Gojyo grinned widely to Sanzo, his heart thudding madly within its cage, threatening to burst, or ride up into his throat at the very least. "Sanzo that was hot," he admitted, pressing soft kisses to his lover's jaw.

            "Ch," the monk rolled his eyes before closing them, and turned onto his side to face the kappa. "Stop licking all over me," he grumbled. His hand flicked across his body in an arc of movement, and the cotton sheets fell over his body like curtains. Gojyo snorted in laughter at the sudden display of modesty.

            "Y'know, it was nice of you to let me in this time," Gojyo murmured.

            "What the hell are you talking about? You're always on top. Stupid kappa."

            "Not that," he sighed, running a hand through damp crimson hair. "I mean you let me in. You let me see your eyes when we made love…"

            "When we what?" He asked flatly, raising both fair brows at Gojyo as if expecting him to snatch up his words and swallow them in apology.

            "Made love," the hanyou repeated, serious for a change. "That's how I think of it, y'know. Like you said, I'm yours now," he smiled. "And I've told you before, and I will again, that I love you."

            "You don't know what you love," Sanzo groused, turning over onto his other side and giving Gojyo a view of the deep red scars running across his back.

            "Yes, yes I do," he protested, grasping Sanzo's arm and turning him back over. To prevent the priest's further evasion, he moved halfway over him, pushing a hand into the mattress on either side of his chest. "And so do you. Back in the desert, you told me,"

            "Fuck what I told you. I was in pain."

            Gojyo felt the sting of anger and rejection behind his eyes and in his throat. He shook his head, dodging the venom of the monk's words. "No. You were totally cognizant. You knew exactly what you were saying, but you only told me because you thought you were gonna die. Like now, you won't. Why?" He managed to keep his voice calm, and the floodgates of anger and hurt shut with ease.

            "Get off."

            "No. Sanzo I wanna know why you can't just say it. Somehow I doubt it has anything to do with your condition." He could feel frustration building in his chest, like an overwhelming tightness sucking the air from his lungs.

            "Get off." Sanzo's tone was obdurate.

            Gojyo merely shook his head. "How come, Sanzo? You don't wanna attach yourself to anyone? You'll sleep with me whenever it's convenient, but you can't reciprocate my feelings even if you have them?"

            Even though it was hardly an appropriate argument for him to be making, Gojyo felt his voice rising, taking on a tone that any other would have found intimidating.

             "You were only willing to risk it—to tell me—when you thought you wouldn't haveta deal with it!" His cheeks burned, and blood coursed hotly through his veins at the thought. Sanzo's motives seemed completely self-centered. "Because of Koumyo's death, you're afraid of getting close to anyone else—because you can't handle that you might lose them too." Sanzo's eyes stared back at him wordlessly. They were veiled again.

            "Selfish bastard," Gojyo murmured, shaking his head and climbing off the bed.

            "Damn you!" Sanzo bellowed, his arm lashing out in a flash of ivory and snagging the kappa's burnt wrist in a vice like grip. With the strength of one arm, and gravity working in his favor, the priest jerked Gojyo back down beside him, a wicked scowl on his face.

            "Watch yourself, Gojyo." The sprite thought then that Sanzo was truly the most terrifying when he wasn't experiencing a bout of violence and fury. "What makes you think I had any affection for him?" Still the tense, unwavering voice. It made Gojyo think of a thick wire being pulled taut, soon to snap and slice through whatever stands in its path. "You're wrong," Sanzo answered the response he saw in his lover's eyes.

            "No I'm not," the kappa rasped, shaking his head. "You loved him—maybe like a father, or a brother, but it's all the same. It's still love. And you lost him, and I know that hurts—stop giving me that look, like I haven't suffered too." His body cooled all at once, and suddenly he felt exhausted. "But there's a difference, between him an' me." Gojyo slid one hand beneath the sheets, grasping the monk's left palm and squeezing it tightly. "I'm not gonna leave you. Ever. As long as you want me, I'll stay."

            To his great astonishment, he felt a gentle pull in return. "Not gonna leave you," Gojyo repeated softly, leaning closer to see his own reflection in Sanzo's eyes.

            Sanzo trembled, his fist crunching about the kappa's hand, and then releasing it completely as he fell forward, cheek to his lover's chest, and bound him in his arms. Gojyo rested his cheek on top of the silky golden mane beneath it.

            "Never." Sanzo stipulated.

            "No, never," Gojyo agreed, running a rough hand up and down the priest's back gently. He felt only smooth, dry skin against his breast. The slight trembling of his shoulders and embrace was the closest thing to crying Gojyo had ever seen in Sanzo. What he felt was more direct; it shot through him like an arrow, resounding in the hollow cavity of his chest. All of Sanzo's emotions, the ones he permitted himself to have, at least. The most prominent of them made the kappa's heart bleed. Relief.

            He never depended on anyone else, and breaking down the walls of self-sufficiency made him weak all at once, vulnerable even though no one else could see it. Suddenly he had made himself dependant on the life of another, in a way he hadn't done for ten years. Now he needed something. Gojyo didn't blame him for being scared.

 

Full Moon

 

            "It's beautiful out…" Hakkai carried a small bag of Goku's prizes at his side. The four of them walked two in front, two behind, because of the press of the crowd. The streets of Song'la were flowing with tourists for the annual summer festival. People dressed in primaries and jeans toted beach bags and stuffed toys while balancing their sodas, cell phones, and children as they navigated the crumbling streets. Hakkai's gaze was pointed upwards, away from the brightly painted circus tents and vending booths, looking at the sky.

            "Yeah definitely," Goku agreed through a mouthful of corndog, his cheeks bulging like a little chipmunk's. "I love festivals. The rides, the food, the people, the food, the decorations, and the funnelcakes--"

            "Shut up, animal," Gojyo snickered, kicking at the monkey's heels from behind. "Besides, everyone knows beer's the best thing at a carnival."

            "Goku you really should go easy on the fried foods," Hakkai admonished, looking rather nervous at the prospect of spending the whole night with him in their cramped, though clean, hotel. They were lucky to find a room at all, much less two, given the crowds.

            "Aw lighten up, Hakkai. It's a party," Goku smirked, pulling the rest of the corndog from its stick and swallowing it whole. "Look a fried clams vendor!"

            "Nope," Gojyo snagged him by the back of his cape as he darted off in the direction of the mauve-colored tent. "I think Hakkai is right; you're full. Besides, you'll get fat, monkey. Start eating foods from your natural diet for a change. Like bananas."

            "You dirty kappa! Stop making banana jokes at me! I don't make algae jokes at you!"

            "Water sprites do not eat algae you stupid ape!" They were on each other in a moment, punching and hair pulling, and past the point of hearing Hakkai's soft-toned reprimands.

            "Hey! Stupid kappa—dumb ape!" Sanzo began beating them both roughly with the harisen as Hakkai stood back and feigned shock at the situation, fitting in nicely with the gathering crowd.

            "Hakkai get 'im off me!" Goku whined, scrambling up and rubbing his head. "Sanzo that hurt!"

            "That's the point!"

            Shooing off the small crowd with murmured apologies, Hakkai tugged Goku along with him and promised to buy him fried clams if he would "please not engage in any more rough behavior during their stay." Goku promised in return to see what he could do about it.

            "Hey lookit that—a fortune teller's booth," Gojyo pointed out, making out a roughly drawn sign beneath part of a blue tent flap. "Let's go get our palms read," the kappa suggested, tugging a resisting Sanzo behind him.

            "You idiot—that's like setting your money on fire! I am not paying to have some gypsy read our cards."

            "Fine, I'll pay," the hanyou winked at him. "I wanna see if we're soul mates."

            Sanzo heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. "I'm not above beating you senseless just because we're in public you know."

            "Since when have you ever been?" Gojyo smirked, walking against the push of people with the monk in tow; he kept his eyes on the bright azure tent covered in scalloped gold edges a few booths ahead.

            A glimmer to the side caught his eye, and he stopped, letting Sanzo catch up, and looked at a booth featuring amulets and charms for just about any situation or ailment one could think of. The amulets hung from the bottom of black silk cords, all in various colors, made of natural gemstone or glass, depending on their use. "Hey lookit those…"

            "You've already made up your mind to waste your money on the gypsy," Sanzo reminded him with a light prod, pushing him forward. It was like grocery shopping with Goku.

            Before reaching the tent, Gojyo's gaze was distracted once again, but this time by a wholly different type of ware. It was, he supposed, the manner of advertisement that stopped him in his tracks.

            Two women walked by dressed in denim and cotton, and not much of either. The taller, a blonde, brushed up against his shoulder with a giggly "oops." Gojyo's well-trained eyes followed them as they passed with raised brows; he let out a catcall and they turned, reminding him of the wonder of the push-up bra.

            "Hey, lookin' good ladies!"

            They both laughed and feigned embarrassment, as if they hadn't realized they left the house half-naked. The blonde flicked her manicured nails up at him in a wave.

            Sanzo elbowed the kappa roughly in the ribs, and Gojyo laughed. "So you do get jealous," He murmured against the blonde's ear.

            "Hey ladies," Gojyo called as they turned to go, arm slipping about Sanzo's waist, "This is my man!"

            The two burst into laughter after a brief pause, and both waved in retreat. The hanyou took great delight watching his lover's face darken from cherry to crimson. He dodged a few attacks with the harisen, but ended up taking two blows to the head and one to his left arm before he stumbled into the safety of the fortune teller's tent.

            "Hey, whoa," the girl behind the table said with a laugh, "no fighting here, boys."

            Gojyo righted himself and lifted his brows, "so how much to get my fortune told?"

            "Fifteen dollars," the black-haired girl replied. Her earrings and bangles jingled with each movement, and caught the flickering light of nearby candles. The entire tent was saturated with the smell of sandalwood and ginger.

            "Not a bad deal at all," the kappa commented, handing her the money. "So how did you pick up palm readings?"

            "I didn't," she chuckled. "This is my grandmother's tent. She'll be giving you the reading. I do tarot in the next tent over."

            "But maybe if you touch my palm you'll get a feel for it huh?" Gojyo smirked, holding out his hand as she held hers up, shaking her head. "I don't bite."

            "Your friend looks ready to," the girl commented, flipping her mop of dark hair back behind her shoulders with a little laugh. "Grandmother's coming," she assured them, and vanished with a hiss of skirts and jingle of bangles behind the blue back of the tent. Nearby the commotion of her customers reached the hanyou's ears.

            "This is stupid."

            "No it's not," Gojyo grinned. "Let's just see what she has to say. If it's a complete waste, at least it was my money, and not yours, right?"

            "Ch."

            The young girl's grandmother, an old woman with suspiciously black hair that hung to her waist came to greet them. She was not in costume, but wore a simple gingham skirt and blouse without a piece of jewelry aside from a wedding band. "And who am I reading for?"

            "Both of us?"

            She smiled and gestured for them to sit. "First?" Her accent was tinged with something Gojyo couldn't identify. He smiled to Sanzo in offering, but the priest merely rolled his eyes. "Kappa."

            "Guess I am," holding out his palm, the redhead watched the old woman trace the lines there with his fingertips, and her tall forehead crinkled a bit.

            "Your birth lines are mixed, suggesting you had a very unique childhood." She paused in consideration, analyzing the odd twists and turns of the hanyou's sunburned hand.

            "Your lifeline is thin up until about…here." Her finger stopped on a portion of his wide palm. "That tells me your reason for life, your great "awakening" if you will, began here. Coincidently, this is also where another line comes close to touching your lifeline. That indicates that this line, representative of a person, is who 'awakened' you." She smiled softly. "A girlfriend, perhaps?"

            "What makes you say that?"

            "Well, this person became a loved one shortly after, according to the lines. See how here it glides down to touch the lifeline, indicating a relationship that became closer over time?"

            Gojyo nodded. "What does it say after that?"

            "Well the line practically vanishes into your lifeline." She beamed. "If you haven't met her yet, you'll know her when you do. This indicates her life-thread becomes entangled with yours."

            "Ah," Gojyo nodded, "Ya know I think I may already know who you're talkin' about."

            The old woman smiled. "Good. And your friend?" She turned to Sanzo.

            "No thanks." He said stiffly, rising with Gojyo. "I've already got my answer."

 

            They walked in silence, letting the noises of the rides, games, and shouting, sleepy children overcome them both for a little while.

            "Told you it was a waste of money." Sanzo was the first to break the silence.

            "What are you talking about? She was dead on!" They swung about a corner of tents and booths, narrowly dodging a herd of small children.

            "She didn't tell you anything you didn't already know."

            "Shit, I did forget to ask about my money line," Gojyo grinned.

            "If you go back there, I can tell you where your money line is gonna go."

            "Aw, c'mon monk, don't be a party-pooper." Gojyo draped an arm about his shoulders, and the blond ducked out of reach.

            "Maybe you should sleep with Hakkai tonight."

            "Aw that's a blow below the belt man. We've been on the road for two days!"

            The priest opened his mouth to retort, but was interrupted by a sharp, and unfortunately familiar yelping. 

            "Sanzo!"  Goku came charging up out of the crowd, a stick of cotton candy in hand. "We were looking for you everywhere! Where did you two go? Hakkai bought me clams and cotton candy and we went on this one ride, a swinging ship--"

            "Damn Hakkai what'd you do? Dip him in a sugar pit? We're gonna haveta chain him down and feed him with a slingshot."
            "What the hell Gojyo!" Goku snarled angrily, jerking away from a quick jab to his shoulder.

            "Time for bed, monkey," The monk growled. "Too hyper. Hakkai, tie him up if you have to."

            "Will do," the healer promised, guiding Goku back in the general direction of their hotel. "Good night, you two."

            "Night," Gojyo called out, holding his hand up in a wave and then letting it drop to his side again. He smiled to Sanzo. "So how about you?"

            "What?"

            "What do you wanna do? It's not even midnight yet. Festival's in session 'till the morning. Wanna ride a ride?"

            "No. They're put together by people like you."

            "Yeowch. Someone's on their period."

            "Would you shut up?"

            "Hey we're practically alone, in a crowd this huge." Gojyo took advantage of said privacy, and walked more closely to Sanzo than he would have dared otherwise. "Do you wanna play one of the games?"

            "No, you idiot."

            "Buy you a beer?"

            "Fine."

 

            Two hours, two ice cream cones, and four beers later, the two found themselves entering the marble-tiled lobby of their hotel and riding the carpeted elevator up to floor six.

            "I still can't believe you'd never tried ice cream."

            "When the hell would I have had it?"

            "Point taken," Gojyo nodded. "I guess monks aren't too into sweets? I mean, you've never even been mildly interested in anything, unless it was covered in cinnamon." He passed his lover a knowing grin as the elevator continued to gently rock and pull them upwards. Thankfully no one else wanted to get on at one-thirty in the morning. "Aren't you glad I went off and bought it anyways?"

            "Ch," Sanzo wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing. They had been through their first beers at an imported beer stand—Sanzo insisted all they had done was change the labels on the bottles—when Gojyo asked the priest if he wanted ice cream. Upon hearing that Sanzo wasn't sure because he had never tried it, the kappa insisted on buying him a cone of soft serve. He had had the vendor sprinkle cinnamon on it, to shut up any possible complaints about how cold it was.

            The elevator shivered and dinged, slowly opening its doors like a weary eyelid. The two stepped out into the chilly halls and made their way towards their bedroom. Sanzo had the card, and it took him two tries to get the green light.

            "Fancy security," the kappa joked. "Better than a lock that doesn't hold, or no door," he pointed out, recalling various other residences they had paid for.

            "I'm going to shower."

            "Okay babe," Gojyo smiled, flopping back on the cool comforter of their queen-sized bed. He tugged off his shirt as he wriggled simultaneously from his boots. Moonlight poured in from the floor to ceiling windows near the desk. The sheer curtain panels hung limply, like silk, and only obscured the outside view. Light still flooded through and puddled on the green carpeting.

            He heard the shower turn on and off within the span of ten minutes. He had showered before they had left for the festival, due to a unanimous vote from the rest of the Ikkou.

            Sanzo came out in his cream-colored robes, miraculously bleached of bloodstains thanks to Hakkai. Gojyo made a mental note to ask him how he had managed that the next morning.

            "What the hell is this?"

            "Huh? Oh." Gojyo smiled bashfully, shrugging. Sanzo was holding up a small metal charm attached to a thin black silk cord. The kappa had picked it up on the fair grounds, when he had gone out for ice cream. "It's a good luck charm," he prompted, watching Sanzo pick it up. "I just thought, y'know, since you're always gettin' stabbed full of holes, you might need it."

            Sanzo snorted and made a sound of disapproval.

            "Shouldn't have tried, huh?" Gojyo offered, watching the blonde-haired climb into his bed.

            "Nope."

            "No worries. I can always win the money back. Hakkai said that the next town was gonna be even bigger, and that we'll reach it in the next two days. Maybe we're coming closer…?"

            "Don't get your hopes up, baka kappa. I don't think the gods are done screwing with us yet."

            Gojyo flopped back onto his side of the bed, tugging his zippo from the pocket of his vest and lighting up. "Well enough. I've had a bang-up time so far. It's a helluva lot more fun than where I was."

            "Speak for yourself."

            "I am. Besides, how could the monastery at Chang'an have been more exciting than where we've been?"

            "Unlike you, ero-kappa, I don't have a masochistic streak. I'm not a fan of getting slashed to ribbons by Gyumaoh's minions."

            "Well you wouldn't, if you'd wear the charm I got ya." The redhead dangled it over Sanzo's face teasingly, watching the ancient letters spin about to reveal the image of Kuan Yin. Sanzo scoffed.

            "What, you don't think Kuan Yin can help you?"

            "I never said that," Sanzo said quietly, making Gojyo think for an instant that the renegade priest had experienced a flash of piety. Not so.

            "She can, just like all the other bodhisattvas behind this mission. Problem is, none of them care enough to bother."

            "Don't judge them all the same, bouzu." The hanyou smiled softly to him. "Kuan Yin is the goddess who accepts supplicants, after all. Maybe if you'd bend a little and ask for her help, she'd give you a hand once in a while." It seemed a pity to see someone so well trained in the ancient Buddhist scriptures as Sanzo spout blasphemous nonsense. Gojyo happened to believe the gods would, in the end, come through for a person. In fact, the kappa mused silently, it had been Sanzo who convinced him of that. Indirectly, of course.

            "Since when did you get so religious?" The monk rolled his eyes and fended off a teasing hand.

            "Since I met you."

            "My impiety inspires you?"

            "No," he couldn't restrain laughter. "Hardly. But ever since I was kid," he hadn't recognized that his voice lowered, but the sudden flash of pain in Sanzo's eyes alerted him. He forced a small smile. Thinking the monk was sick of the story before it began, he stopped.

            "What?"

            "Nothin'."

            "No. What about when you were a kid?"

            He wanted to know? "I…it's that when I was a kid, I thought of the gods the same way you do. Why would they make youkai and humans, and let them live together, if they weren't meant to be together? I thought if they existed at all, they must take a lotta joy in people's suffering, because I saw it everywhere. In me, Jien, my mom…" His brow furrowed and he glanced down at the crinkles of the sheets, smoothing them out with a flattened palm. "With everything that happened, I was pretty damn sure I was going to hell, if not for this," he ran his fingers through his scarlet mane, "then for not believing enough. I got to where I didn't think a single good thing would happen to me, so I took what I could get where I could get it. I figured if I was gonna go to Hell, I might as well go out with a bang, doing what I want. Then Hakkai came, and you, and monkey." He blushed lightly at the sudden sentimental turn of the conversation.

            "This is the best thing that's ever happened to me. It made me think that maybe the gods decided it's finally my turn. It was Kanzeon Bosatsu herself, after all, who said I hadta come with you guys. Maybe she foresaw what would happen to us all."

            Sanzo snorted and rolled his eyes, flicking the Hi-Lite from Gojyo's mouth and tossing the blazing cherry into the ash tray nearby. "That's ridiculous. She doesn't have a clue." Gojyo gazed in a mixture of admiration and amusement at the monk's words. They were so typical of him, always running off at the mouth and causing disturbances in both worlds. Maverick.

            "You just don't wanna admit she set us up."

            "Do you really want to credit her with our…" Sanzo waved a hand in the air, at a loss for words.

            "Relationship?" The hanyou offered, receiving a glare in return.

            "Circumstance." Sanzo finished simply.

            "Guess not," Gojyo trailed off, red eyes falling shut for a moment. "So since we'll be camping out the next two nights…"

            "Yeah, yeah," Sanzo nodded, sitting up and running a hand through is damp hair. Shortly after he divested himself of robe and jeans.

            Gojyo whistled his appreciation, lying back on the bed and unzipping his pants. He wriggled his hips enough to pull them down to mid-thigh, and Sanzo jerked them off completely.

            "So you don't mind it?" Gojyo whispered as the monk laid over him, rubbing his thigh slowly between both of Sanzo's. A low groan escaped his lips at the speed in which the blond became aroused.

            "Mind what?" Sanzo growled, jerking his head up from where he had contented himself at the kappa's throat, kissing and biting in familiar patterns.

            "That I took your virginity."

            "Where the fuck did that come from?" His voice wasn't cruel, but Gojyo sensed the tension in the air the moment the words left his mouth. Why was Sanzo so touchy about having been a cherry-chan for so long? It's not as though he couldn't have had women—or men--, only that he wouldn't. The hanyou saw nothing there to be ashamed of.

            "I just…I'm the only one you've ever done this with, right?"

            "Count yourself lucky I don't have anything to compare you to."

            "Ha-ha," the redhead said flatly, running his hands through shaggy golden hair. "I just wanna know if you regret it. Giving up your last vow for me."

            "If I tell you, will you shut up and let me fuck you?"

            "Yeah," the sprite vowed, red eyes meeting fairer, violet ones beneath heavy lashes. "But you gotta tell the truth." His lips brushed gently across Sanzo's, tasting a faint, sweet spice there, probably from the cinnamon ice cream. When he laid back, head against the pillow, surrounded by a scarlet corona, he breathed in relief at Sanzo's answer.

            "No."

            "Alright." Gojyo nodded, a little smile flickering over his lips. Sanzo's face vanished quickly, eyes falling shut, as he dove back to the kappa's throat, eagerly mouthing his jugular and wringing moans from him within the minute.

            They were quieter that evening than usual, though not out of consideration for their neighbors by any means. Gojyo topped, and despite Sanzo's earlier insistence, the priest seemed to enjoy it. The kappa was almost positive he preferred it.

            Their movements were slower and less frenzied than usual. The hanyou wasn't desperate to stroke and kiss every patch of ivory skin beneath him, and the priest wasn't intent on leaving deep crimson furrows along the bronze skin of his lover's back. Neither bothered with displays of dominance or superiority; for a night there was a truce between them. Each was engrossed in the other, eyes open, mouths locked together, searching and dipping and touching.

            Gojyo was careful to thrust gently, tempering his excitement to wring extended groans from the man beneath him. Sanzo would tilt his head back in an erotic and rather submissive display with each sway of his lover's hips. Soon his breath came in long, even waves to match the undulations of their bodies as they came together and then drew apart. Long, ivory fingers wove through scarlet hair. Bronze hands grasped starch sheets. Their movements threw elongated, lazy shadows across the floor and walls; the dark images slid sensually together and apart like a serpent through water. Only the faintest of breaths hovered in the still air. The sounds of crinkling sheets and pulsing blood seemed louder.

            Gojyo swore then that the image beneath him would be one embedded in his memory forever. So rarely did Sanzo's eyes meet him when they were together in this way. Amethystine navettes locked with garnets, and for a moment they seemed to glow in the dark of the room, warm and open. But within an instant the spell was broken, and the room filled with feverish panting and moaning. Gojyo bit roughly at the monk's shoulder, and Sanzo's breath hitched before crying out in pleasure and raking his hands down tense muscles. Gojyo followed suite, his lover's name on his lips. When he closed his eyes, sure enough, Sanzo's image, those wide-open violet eyes, greeted him.

 

            "Hakkai I don't know how I feel about all this."

            "About all what?" Hakkai glanced up from his book, comfortably situated on a fair-sized bed. Goku was on the couch working his way through a bag of potato chips and M&Ms from the vending machine in the lobby.

            "Sanzo and Gojyo. Bein' together. I feel like there's something no one is telling me that I oughta know. I mean, I haveta watch out for Sanzo." He paused to give Hakkai a moment to reflect on his comment, and took the opportunity to pop a handful of candy-coated chocolate into his mouth. "Hm."

            "I really can't say for certain that I understand your question. Their relationship with one another is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. It's really not our affair, and while I'm sure Gojyo would open up willingly, Sanzo would not. You know him better than I do, though."

            "Nah you're right. I just…things seem so normal; it's hard for me to get it. That Sanzo's new favorite is the stupid dirty kappa. I thought they hated each other."

            Hakkai only chuckled, further confusing the monkey. Then Goku winced.
            "Ugh, there's that sound again."

            "They've not been too noisy tonight though," Hakkai allowed. "Walls must be thick."

            Goku chuckled. "I guess. But seriously, what kind of kissing makes that much noise?"

            "Perhaps this is a question better suited for Gojyo."

            "I'll ask him about it in the morning," Goku promised.

 

            "Mngh, Sanzo…"

            "Sh't up," the blond panted back at him, damp lips open as he fought for breath. Gojyo was still inside of him, though they had both crested and settled a bit. "Fucking hot."

            "It was," the hanyou agreed with a contented sigh.

            "No, the room. Get off," Sanzo pushed him over, letting the cool air from the ceiling descend upon him and dry his sweat-slicked chest. He grunted and forced his eyes open again, gradually loosening his nails from the torn bed sheets. He hadn't realized how roughly he'd been gripping them until just then.

            "I love you ya know," Gojyo murmured, kissing Sanzo's shoulder and neck gently before being swatted away.

            "Tch," the monk muttered, closing his eyes and stretching his body out atop the sheets. He listened to the kappa's footsteps as he went to the bathroom to retrieve a wet cloth. Soon Sanzo felt a warm dampness stroking his stomach and chest, then down the length of his manhood. He bit back a soft gasp of pleasure, enjoying the gentle touch. He jerked back instinctively when the cloth lowered and stroked at his sore backside.

            "Watch it," he hissed, kicking the kappa in the arm.

            "Sorry, sorry," Gojyo murmured in a tone that clearly indicated he was not. "Want me to kiss it better?" He dipped his head low, between the monk's thighs, and pressed a soft kiss to the sore flesh, letting his tongue stray in a flash of pink.

            "That's disgusting," Sanzo stared, more entranced than repelled. He took a longer time than habit dictated to draw the sheets over his lower half.

            "I don't think so," the sprite shrugged, smiling to his lover as he cleaned up and tossed the cloth to the floor. Soon he rested in a neat little hollow beside Sanzo in the bed. He dared to pull the priest close, only to receive a tired sigh of annoyance that seemed to consent with a "if you must."

            "What, no cuddling?" Gojyo teased, arms lacing about Sanzo's waist so that his chin could lie comfortably near his silky mane. He inhaled, breathing deeply the scent of Sanzo's mane and sweat-speckled skin. He smelled like lemongrass and cigarette smoke, and a faint musk all his own.

            "Is this for real?"

            "You're an idiot."

            "I know," the kappa shrugged it off in passing, "but I just wanna know."

            "It's real." Sanzo assented.

            "Hmm…" Gojyo closed his eyes and spooned himself about his lover, mouth dancing over the smooth skin of his nape. "Are you ever going to tell me that you love me back?"

            Silence responded.

            "Sanzo?"

            He peered over his lover's shoulder, finding his face, hidden beneath his heavy bangs, to be closed off in sleep. The kappa shook his head with a trace of a smile and settled back into the pillow. He shouldn't beg for a promise; words were not Sanzo's medium of choice. It was his actions, Gojyo reasoned, that he used to communicate.

            And here he is letting me sleep with him, letting his guard down because he feels safe lying next to me. If that's not an 'I love you' then what is?

 

            The next morning the Sanzo Ikkou was up by seven, fed by half past, and in the jeep by eight, Sanzo firing off rounds to get Hakkai's attention.

            "I'm coming Sanzo!" Their healer assured him, hopping over Hakuryu's side and revving the engine. "No need to startle everyone so early."

            "Then get moving."

            The younger man smiled and guided Hakuryu out of town, past the remnants of the past night's festival, and towards the open road. "The next town should be about two days from now, so this morning I went out shopping for supplies."

            "Did you get Hi-Lites?" Gojyo asked, hanging over the passenger seat, his hand near the priest's shoulder.

            "Oh no," Hakkai smiled. "I must have forgotten to. You know, you should really get up early and come shopping too, if you're so concerned about the purchases made." Gojyo knew this was Hakkai's subtle manner of repaying him for sleeping in.

            "How about beer?" The kappa ventured.

            Hakkai sighed. "It wouldn't be good if you became sick in Hakuryu."

            "Well this sucks. I'm down to my last ten cigarettes, and there's no way I can ration those for two days."

            "Oh my," Hakkai murmured, that same inane smile on his face as he changed the subject. "You know, the next town we will reach will be very small. I don't think we'll see a hotel like that one for a while."

            "This is just a morning for good news, isn't it?" The kappa muttered.

            "But it's going to be a beautiful day."

            "And I brought snicker doodles," Goku added, "not that you can have any."

            "Stuff it monkey."

            "Hakkai!"

            "Yare, yare…"

            "Shut up or I'll shoot you both!"

 

            Night fell and Hakkai continued on, promising to make good time and not stop until he was too exhausted to continue. Sanzo agreed, and the back seat passengers consented only because they had no other option. Goku complained of hunger, and Gojyo draped a blanket across his body as the night sky blackened.

            The sky was dark and clear, a diamond studded abyss looming overhead, streaked with the white film of the Milky Way. Gojyo rested his head on the back of his seat and watched the unmoving sky overhead, even as he felt the jeep beneath him rumble and jerk over rocks. The moon, a full, rounded pearl sat in the centre of a silver aura, hanging low in the sky and lighting the way.

            The whistling wind was cold enough to make the blanket cozy, but not numb his ears and nose. Somehow the night seemed quieter, even though they rarely encountered others during the day time in their far-flung locale. Gojyo appreciated it, but at the same time longed for conversation, something familiar and easy to fill the void.

            He slunk back in his seat and adjusted himself to a favored position, where he could usually see Sanzo's reflection in the side mirror. But for some reason the priest was sitting more stiffly than usual, and only his chin and throat were visible. The rocking of the vehicle beneath him and the comfort of a soft, warm blanket against the chilly night air lulled him to sleep. The kappa's eyes flickered shut, but a sudden gleam coaxed them open again. As Hakkai made a slight turn, the moonlight caught the same glimmering shard of bronze in its light. The hanyou was surprised to find that the shard was attached to a black silk cord hanging between the folds of Sanzo's robes, about his neck.

            "Decide you might need some luck after all, monk?" Gojyo leaned forward over the front seat, grinning widely at the fair-haired priest. Sanzo met his eyes.

            "With you, Gojyo, I'll take all I can get."

            The kappa threw his head back in a laugh, and as he did, caught the shiny image of the moon, now directly overhead because of Hakkai's turn.

            They Ikkou drove on in silence, listening to the wind and the jostling of the ground beneath Hakuryu. Gojyo's sleepy eyes took everything in at once; the flat terrain stretched endlessly into darkness in the distance, where only stars defined the sky from the ground. The Milky Way snaked about the cosmos in pale streaks, dodging stars and suns. The moonlight caught Sanzo's hair, and his own too, he supposed, in its silvery light. And it glowed.  

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